NEW YORK - As soon as Tiger Woods won his seventh consecutive PGA Grand Slam of Golf title with a two-stroke victory over Jim Furyk, and was set to enter the 2007 season following a phenomenal string of six straight PGA Tour victories, everyone in golf started talking about the greatest golfer in the history of the game: Mikhail Tyurin.
How did Tyurin do it? With a single one-handed swing of a six-iron.
Golfing analysts say that Tyurin's chip shot will change the game of golf forever. It was, by far, the longest shot in the history of golf, says the Guinness Book of Records.
In the meantime, around the world, golfers are trying to figure out how they can emulate Tyurin's feat. Some are snapping up gold-plated six-iron golf clubs, like the one Tyurin used. Industrial Platings and Coatings in Akron, Ohio, is so inundated with requests to have entire sets of clubs plated in gold that its factory, the largest in North America, now has a 22-month backlog in plating orders.
Others are trying to buy 3-gram, ultra-lightweight balls (a standard ball weighs 45 grams) like the one Tyurin used, but they are no where to be found. Every major manufacturer is said to have an ultra-light in the design stages but ramping up production could take months.
Other golfers are taking up, in a life imitates art moment, ice hockey. Tyurin had only played golf twice in his life -- but plays hockey regularly.
Cinema critics and golf pros both are now re-evaluating the 1996 comedy classic, Happy Gilmore, in which Adam Sandler played a mostly talentless hockey player whose powerful tee shot allowed him to win tournaments and make the PGA tour. The movie had been thought to be fiction -- but now it is clear was not.
Almost every serious player, say golf pros at clubs around the world, is remaking his tee shot to Tyurin's one-handed stroke. Gene Stout, head golf pro for 15 years at Augusta National in Georgia, says that club pro staffs are now devoting their time entirely to group lessons on the one-handed slap-shot stroke.
But the really big change, said Stout, is not going to be in clubs and swings.
"Long hitters, like Tiger Woods, and hi-tech drivers, such as the Big Bertha, had already changed the game so much that many courses had to totally revamp their layouts to add length. Tyurin's shot renders those multi-million makeovers silly. Some 'radical' makeovers had added a thousand yards to their courses; they are going to have to go back now and add a whole lot more. A whole, whole lot more," said Stout.
Controversy, as might be expected, is already brewing about "the shot heard 'round the world" as a major disagreement about the extent of the feat has occurred between golf company Element 21 and NASA.
Still, under either's estimate, Tyurin shattered the old record, putting the ball in low-earth orbit. The previous longest recorded golf drive was 515 yards (471 meters) set by golf pro Mike Austin in 1974.
Astronaut Alan Shepard's memorable golf swing during the Apollo 14 mission in 1971, which traveled "miles and miles," was not official as it was taken from the moon.
The president of Element 21, Nataliya Hearn, whose golf equipment company from Toronto supplied the gold-plated six-iron, said Tyurin's shot would travel 1.6 billion kilometers (one billion miles) and stay in orbit for a couple of years. NASA's lead spacewalk flight director, Holly Ridings, however, said the golf ball would stay up only two to three days and travel closer to 1.6 million kilometers (one million miles).
Woods, who often plays irons off of tees when the other top pros are using drivers, said he was very impressed -- and would be totally remaking his tee shot as well.
Meanwhile, Mikhail Tyurin, whose daytime job is as a cosmonaut, said he is considering turning pro as a golfer when he returns from his mission with the International Space Station.
According to Woods, Tyurin "may be better than Michelle Wie, at this point in his game."
He did add one piece of advice for his future rival. "He's going to have to work on his short game."
Copyright 2006 Douglas Salguod