Once Gabi Powel competed in a long drive contest (and hit a ball 350 yards) she was forever hooked

Gabi Powel was sitting in the crowd watching a golf exhibition in Bogota, Colombia, last spring when the announcer suddenly asked her to hit a few shots.

Powel nonchalantly grabbed her driver and –— to the amazement of the crowd — started smacking 300-yard-plus drives down the range.

“I love that kind of moment,” Powel said. “People are not expecting me to hit it nearly that far.”

Two years ago, Powel didn’t expect to be hitting a golf ball longer than the length of three football fields, either. The Jupiter, Florida, resident had been a top golfer at William T. Dwyer High School and Florida International University, who said she was known as a long hitter.

Powel realized she wasn’t good enough to play on the LPGA Tour, so she tried to stay in the game as a social media influencer and a mentor to young children.

Powel’s path changed when the Long Drive Tour came to Hobe Sound in early 2022. A fellow competitor, Antony Livingston, asked Powel if she would help promote the competition with social media posts. She did.

But when Powel showed up at the competition, Livingston had another request: Having seen her hit before, he encouraged Powel to enter the competition.

She did, finishing second, and a new career was launched.

“I instantly fell in love with it.”

Gabi Powel of the United States watches her ball during the preliminary qualifying round of the World Long Drive Championship at Bobby Jones Golf Course on October 20, 2023, in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Alex Slitz/Getty Images)

The question is, how far could she take this new endeavor of hitting the long ball?

The first thing she had to do was secure the proper driver to smash the ball. Most long-driving competitors use clubs that are 3 inches longer (48) than traditional drivers. Then it was building up strength and working on her technique.

“A lot of people don’t think I can hit the ball that far because I have a very long swing that kind of wraps around my body,” she said.

The key, as it is for any golfer, is not the swing but where the club strikes the ball.

“Center-face contact is most important,” Powel said.

Whatever she’s been doing, it’s been working. Powel was fifth last year at a long-drive contest in Japan, second at this year’s competition in Denver, where she hit a career-long 367-yard drive, and she was again fifth at last month’s Long Drive Competition in Atlanta.

“It was an awesome year,” Powel said, “and I feel like I’m just getting started.”

Powel also made news earlier this year when she was dating PGA Tour winner Andy Svensson, which allowed her to caddy for him in the Par-3 Tournament at Augusta National. She became anxious when Svensson, as most players do, asked Powel to hit a shot on the ninth hole.

“I was actually really nervous, but because I do a lot of charity work, it wasn’t the first time I had hit a ball in front of a lot of people,” she said.

Alas, her wedge sailed far over the green, but she saw a positive with the result. “It was on brand for being a long driver,” she said, smiling.

The two are no longer dating, but Powel keeps busy these days with training and working on the Forward Tees Foundation she and her friend, Hannah Leiner, started that “advances career opportunities for women through golf and beyond.”

Gabi Powel holds the flag for her then-boyfriend, Adam Svensson, during the Par 3 Contest at The Masters golf tournament at Augusta National Golf Club. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Network

“We have an online mentorship program where young girls can talk to women who have played college golf and know the ins and outs,” Powel said.

Helping the next generation is wonderful, but there’s no better feeling for a long-drive professional than to hit one pure.

“It’s such an adrenaline rush,” Powel said. “It’s a feeling of, ‘Let’s go!’ You get so much confidence from hitting one perfect.”

And watching it disappear into the blue sky.

Story originally appeared on GolfWeek