Naperville resident Connor Powers has been told he’s got the perfect surname for what he does.
The former Mississippi State slugger, who played three seasons with the San Diego Padres organization, has powered his way to the world championship for driving golf balls farther than most.
“I’ve had a pretty good run with my name,” Powers said. “I guess I just have a passion for hitting little round objects. I have a lot of fun whether it’s hitting a baseball or hitting a golf ball.”
Powers, who played baseball at Benet, became one of the eight finalists in the 2014 Re/Max Long Drive Championship after drilling a 402-yard drive last month at a competition in Mesquite, Nev. He’s invited to compete live on the Golf Channel in November for a chance at the world title and a $250,000 prize.
He played some golf for fun when he was younger but focused on baseball primarily. His overall game is average — he said he’ll typically shoot in the mid-80s — but that doesn’t matter in a long-drive competition, where his knack for hitting home runs seems to have translated to golf.
Still, the skill set is entirely different and required lots of training. This journey began in March, with the Catalyst Golf Performance Long Drive team in Chicago, and in just seven months he’s has become one of the best drivers in the world.
“We knew that he had great potential to be an elite athlete regardless of what sport he was playing,” said Mike Napoleon, director of golf instruction at Catalyst. “We saw huge gains, especially in the gym, within a very short time with Connor. We have just set the foundation for Connor at this point and are very excited to see what he can achieve.”
Powers came to Catalyst on the recommendation of Monica Coleman, who runs a performance coaching company called CoRE Performance Dynamics that helps athletes get the most out of their abilities. Powers said he reached out to her when he was struggling in the minor leagues and needed help with the mental aspect of his game.
Napoleon said Powers’ initial ball and club speeds showed good potential, and that’s when they invited him to join the newly created Long Drive Team. Powers was familiar with the long drive championship because a friend from college, Jeff Flagg, competed previously and is also among the eight finalists this year.
Powers quickly improved his ball speed to 223.7 mph and his club speed to 152.5 mph, which Napoleon said was the fastest ever recorded at the championships in Nevada.
“The sky is the limit for Connor,” Napolean said. For comparison’s sake, Napoleon said the average ball speed on the PGA Tour is 167 mph and the average ball speed is 113 mph.
The training regimen implemented by Catalyst is a lot more than hitting golf balls repeatedly. Catalyst creates an intensive, customized program for each athlete, as well as a diet plan. Powers said the key to driving the ball far includes the attach angle, the club speed and the “smash factor,” which is how squarely the ball is hit. But when he’s in the moment, he doesn’t try to overthink it.
“I just try to keep it as simple as I can,” he said. “I try to shatter the golf ball in half. I don’t think about where it’s going or how hard I’m swinging.”
The Golf Channel will air the Long Drive Championship live at 5 p.m. Nov. 4, and an episode of the competition in Mesquite will air Tuesday.