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    Thursday, August 11, 2022

    Isaiah Joyner has that (long) drive to succeed

    Isaiah Joyner, a 2016 NFA grad who is now a member of the Professional Long Drivers Association, won his first event last summer at the Cornfield Classic Open in Iowa. (Photo courtesy of Joyner family)
    Isaiah Joyner puts plenty of time in on the driving range while perfecting his craft as a member of the Professional Long Drivers Association. (Photo courtesy of Joyner family)
    • Kacey Constable of Old Saybrook recorded her first hole-in-one on July 8 at on the third hole at Old Lyme Country Club. (Photo courtesy of Old Lyme CC)

    When Isaiah Joyner started thinking about careers, he first considered fashion design and then architecture.

    Professional long driver?

    Not even on his radar.

    It certainly is now.

    Joyner, 24, is rising up the Professional Long Drivers Association (PDLA) world rankings, standing at No. 23 despite being a relative newcomer to the circuit. When conditions are favorable, he regularly drives the ball in the 375 to 390 yard range.

    A 2016 Norwich Free Academy graduate, Joyner started to head down that career path after taking a lesson from Jimmy Jones at Lake of Isles in North Stonington.

    “I’ve been golfing my entire life,” said Joyner who played golf and basketball at NFA. “Four years ago, I started working at Lake of Isles. It wasn't until about last year I had my first lesson with Jimmy Jones, who became my coach. He probably saw eight or nine swings and then he pulled me aside and asked me if I ever thought of doing long drive.

    “At the time, I had heard of long drive but didn’t know the career path that it is.”

    Now Joyner, who started out with amateur competitions, is a regular on the professional circuit.

    He won his first event last summer at the Cornfield Classic Open in Iowa.

    It was an important breakthrough.

    “It was great,” he said. “It really solidified that thought in my mind that I should continue down this path.”

    The next stop on the tour, which basically runs from March to October, is a short drive away from his home in Franklin.

    Chris Cote’s Driving Range in Portland will host the PLDA Connecticut Challenge pro event on July 31.

    It will give his family a chance to watch him compete.

    Joyner grew up playing on the courses in southeastern Connecticut. He plays in a regular foursome with his father, Devol, and two brothers, Andre and Miles.

    Competing in long drive competitions hasn’t hurt his handicap. He’s a three.

    “Overall, it’s definitely more of a benefit than a takeaway from my game,” Joyner said.

    He’s always been able to hit jaw-dropping drives off the tee, consistently launching tee shots over 300 yards.

    “Even throughout high school, I was driving out the back of driving ranges pretty regularly and reaching par 5s in two shots,” Joyner said. “But it wasn’t until working with (Jones) that I realized that I had over 50 yards of distance in me that I just wasn’t using.”

    Joyner has worked with Jones on perfecting his craft. He appreciates Foxwoods Resort Casino sponsoring him.

    He talked about what they focus on during training sessions.

    “The big thing is just getting through your head when we’re training for club head speed and distance, accuracy is going to suffer a little bit at the beginning and you’re not going to hit it as straight as possible all the time. You’ve really got to focus on club head speed, ball speed and then distances.

    “So, what we will do, we’ll grab a driver and we will try to swing as fast as possible for a very short amount of time. Then, take a break and get back to it. Take out another driver, swing as fast as possible. Then, over time that accuracy will elevate itself.”

    Joyner has surprised himself with his progress.

    After only six months of long drive training, he can hit a ball over 400 yards.

    “I had seen guys hit it over 400 yards in the world championship competition and I thought that wasn’t really attainable. … I’ve really surprised myself how fast I’ve grown and how much distance that I’ve put on in a short amount of time. And it’s only the beginning, too.”

    When asked what his ultimate goal is, Joyner responded: “Just to see how fast I can get, how far I can hit, because I’m just starting out. This is my first year and I’ve already had club head speeds and ball speeds that are top 10 in the world. My goal, short term, is to elevate that and elevate my performance.

    “Long term, I think it’s just seeing how far I can take this.”

    Short putts

    • Congratulations to Dave Jones who qualified for the 67th U.S. Senior Amateur for the first time. He earned medalist honors by shooting the only under par round – 1-under, 70 – at the qualifier Monday at Black Hall Club.

    Jones, who’s from Norwich, is playing perhaps the best golf of his senior career.

    He talked about what it would mean to qualify for the United States Golf Association event prior to competing at Black Hall.

    “The U.S. Senior Am, if I wanted to have one good tournament all year, that’s the one I want to qualify for,” Jones said. “You want to play in USGA events, that’s just the best. I’ve never played in the U.S. Senior Am. I’ve only tried maybe once or twice.”

    It’s nice to see a first-class guy like Jones rewarded for his strong play and achieve a major goal. He won’t have to go far to participate in the U.S. Senior Amateur, which will be held Aug. 27-Sept. 1 at The Kittansett Club in Marion, Mass.

    Jones also is in a great place personally, feeling good after battling cancer a few years ago.

    “I’m very lucky,” he said. “I’m healthy. Just very lucky.”

    • There are still some openings left for the 10th Annual Dolphin Scholarship Tournament, which will tee off Friday at Pequot Golf Club on Friday at 9 a.m. with a shotgun start. For more information, call 360-908-4627.

    • Kacey Constable of Old Saybrook recorded her first hole-in-one on July 8 at Old Lyme Country Club. A long-time low-handicap golfer, Constable accomplished the feat on the third hole while playing in the semifinals of the Old Lyme women’s golf association individual handicap tournament.

    • Here’s an interesting story that was described as sad and inspirational: Conner Willett, 19, recently won the Massachusetts Amateur at Concord Country Club five days after his father, Rick, tragically died. After sinking the match-clinching putt, Willett headed to the funeral home for his father’s wake and brought the championship trophy with him. The funeral was the next day.

    Upcoming events

    • The Elmridge men’s club championship matches begin this weekend.

    • The qualifier for the Shennecossett men’s club championship is set for this weekend.

    • The 88th Connecticut Open will run July 25-27 at the New Haven Country Club. Peter Bello is the defending champion. Locals expected to play include Jones, Kevin Shea of Great Neck Country Club, Bill Hermanson of Black Hall CLub and Fletcher Babcock of Connecticut National.

    • Round one of the Pequot men’s club championship tees off on July 31. Round two and three will be played on Aug. 6 and Aug. 7, respectively.

    Please send golf results, hole-in-one information, etc., to g.keefe@theday.com

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