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Long drives have golfer on course for Vegas

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Brian Bent gave up his dream of playing professional baseball when he left the Baltimore Orioles minor league organization at the age of 22 and he started playing more golf.

Although Bent, 27, still enjoys playing rounds of golf with his friends and sinking a few birdie putts, it's his prolific drives that draws the most awe-inspiring attention.

Those long drives helped him qualify for the Re/Max World Long Drive Championships in Las Vegas, which runs from Oct. 17 through Oct. 25.

Bent, an Arbutus resident who grew up in Catonsville, will be one of 120 long drivers from all over the world, including last year's winner Carl Wolter, to compete for the title.

In the 2011 championship finals, Wolter won with a drive of 409 yards.

Wolter eliminated 2009 and 2010 winner Jamie Sadlowski in the quarter finals, 446-443.

Bent's longest drive in competition was 420 yards in a tournament in North Carolina and he lost by three yards.

"I am just pumped," Bent said. "I am just ready to get out there."

The finals on Oct. 25 will be broadcast livestream on ESPN 3 from 5-7 p.m. and they will be aired on ESPN on Dec. 23 (2:30 p.m.) and on Dec. 25 on ESPN 2 (3:30 p.m.)

Bent can draw on his ball playing, which included two seasons with Single A Aberdeen, for comfort.

"I think pro ball experience has helped me, playing in front of 10,000 people or more," he said. "That has helped me deal with the media and the public."

Bent, drafted as a catcher in the 2005 Major League draft out of the Community College of Baltimore County-Catonsville, never hit a home run in two seasons at Aberdeen and was more of a defensive specialist.

Now, he attacks the golf ball with one of his six Triple X stiff shaft 49-inch drivers with the power well beyond the longest home run hitters in the game.

His maximum swing speed is 154 miles per hour and during a recent practice session on a driving range he had a registered ball speed of 205 miles per hour.

He first was introduced to long drive competition when he entered a local tournament at the Arundel Golf Club in 2010 and he won it with using his original $60 driver from his golf bag with a drive of 391 yards.

"I won it with the very last drive," he said. "I was a pretty long driver on the golf course, but I didn't know I could do that."

In competition, each golfer gets six swings and they must finish in two minutes and 45 seconds.

He qualified for the world championships after winning a last chance regional qualifier in Conneaut Lake, Pa.

He reached the double-elimination shootout and he won every round without ever facing elimination.

"I said before the event 'If I was going to make it to worlds, I'm going,'" he said. "I'm just going to make it happen. That's the top 120 hitters in the world."

Although he is an amateur, he takes the sport very seriously.

The 2003 Mount St. Joseph graduate, who played four years of varsity baseball and caught current Chicago White Sox pitcher Gavin Floyd for two seasons, draws on his baseball background.

"It all matters about your swing speed," he said. "If you can get your swing speed up and create good club lag, you are in good shape."

Baseball helps because he says, "It's very similar, just a different contact point."

His job as president of Baltimore Professional Baseball Training involves video analysis and he used that to try and perfect his golf swing.

"I take a video of my golf swing and I compare it split screen with the other top long drivers," he said.

Bent, who will be married on June 8, 2013, also was helped when he joined a class called Bikram Yoga with his fiancé Angela Restivo.

It's yoga in a sauna of about 109 degrees.

"I had to work on flexibility and it's one of the hardest workouts I've done," he said. "You just hold stretches and stuff. I've sweat off seven pounds in the class."

Although Bent is self-taught, he does train and take tips from his co-worker at the Baltimore Professional Training Center, Paul Winterling.

"It's nice having a training partner like Brian," Winterling said. "We motivate each other."

Winterling, who also played minor league ball in the Orioles organization, went to the world long drive championship last season, while Bent was still recovering from back problems stemming from a car accident.

"It was a great time," Winterling said. "I'm really excited for Brian."

The rush of adrenaline can be intimidating, but Winterling was undaunted last year because of his baseball experience.

"Honestly, the experience of playing in front of thousands of people in the minor leagues prepared me for it," said the 6-foot-3, 225-pound Winterling, who finished in the middle of the pack.

The 6-foot-2, 220-pound Bent generally hits a straight ball or power fade, but he's capable of hitting a draw and he uses either a club head with a five or six degree loft depending on the conditions.

"His swing is much prettier than mine," Winterling said. "He's got a long backswing and he creates a lot of leverage."

Winterling's strength is accuracy and Bent knows that is the key.

"The hardest part is keeping the ball in the grid," said Bent, noting the grid is 50 yards wide.

Playing golf with his friends, where he is a 10 handicap, helps with his accuracy, but when he plays in best-ball tournaments, some of his partners don't even bother teeing off.

"I try to let them go first," he said.

Practices at some driving ranges aren't normal either.

He sometimes has to hit from well beyond where the tee boxes are set up for conventional golfers.

Bent has also been asked to leave at one driving range because his blasts were hitting houses 400 yards away.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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