LAS VEGAS — When Jeff Flagg’s minor league baseball career ended, he needed something to stay competitive.
Known for his strength, and his ability to drive home runs out of Traverse City’s Wuerfel Park when he played for the Traverse City (Mich.) Beach Bums of the Frontier League, Flagg turned to golf. He has spent the past two-and-a-half years honing his power in long-drive competitions.
His efforts culminated Tuesday night when the 29-year-old Flagg edged Jeff Crittenden to win the World Long Drive Championship at the Las Vegas Paiute Golf Resort.
“It’s been awesome. I’m speechless,” an awe-struck Flagg said. “I’m sitting here smiling, taking pictures, doing interviews, but I have no clue what’s going on.”
Flagg and the 43-year-old Crittenden hit their second ball of the final round 365 yards off the platform. Flagg’s shot measured 20 inches past the hash mark, and Crittenden’s was seven inches from the 365-yard mark.
“I never played golf really serious, baseball was always No. 1,” said Flagg, who earned $250,000 for the win. “I was always athletic enough to play when I was young and got the chance. I just don’t think the mindset changes. When baseball got done, it was one of those things where I had to find something to keep my competitive juices going.
“It’s been a heck of a run the last two and a half years.”
Flagg said he had no plans to make it as far as he did because Crittenden eliminated him earlier this year in a regional qualifier in Alabama. But at the urging of his girlfriend and former college baseball teammate Connor Powers, he gave it one more shot at another qualifier, this time in Chicago.
“I was kind of dejected, ready to hang it up,” Flagg said. “I’m one of those guys that just gives it one shot, see what happens. I’m not going to chase it around, I mean, it’s kind of expensive. (But) I kept it going and haven’t lost since. It’s unbelievable how this year played out.”
The finalists advanced from a field of eight that began the night in fair weather conditions, but ended with a brisk wind blowing across the grid.
Flagg and Crittenden were followed by semifinalists Joe Miller and Adam Smith. Daniel Beckman, Powers, Jamie Sadlowski and Matt Hanger didn’t make it to the final round.