EVEN vastly-experienced super-coach John Harrison, who has seen most things golf related in his time, was gob smacked when Imran Aziz pitched up for a few lessons at the Matfen Hall Academy.
“We have got a longer driving range than most,” said Harrison. “But you can definitely say Imran stopped the traffic on it. He was hitting the ball out of sight and right off our practice ground.
“Our assistant pros and the other golfers on our driving range just stood there open-mouthed when we asked him to show us what he could do with one of those souped-up drivers of his.
“The trees at the end of our range are around 60ft tall and 280 yards away. He was clearing them by 30ft!”
The 23-year-old Aziz, a member of the George Washington Golf & Country Club, has long been a regular visitor to Florida and even lived there for a year with his mum, Wendy, supporting his academy golf.
Always a big hitter, he decided to find out how big last year when he entered the RE/MAX World Long Drive Championship as an amateur. This involves a degree of accuracy in that you can’t veer off outside a “fairway” zone 80 yards wide.
He progressed through an area event in California and then recorded a staggering 404 yards in the Las Vegas regionals.
But that left him 11th in his category, when only the top ten moved through to the national finals.
“I felt it was a decent effort,” said Aziz. “The guys I was up against were specialists in long driving all around 6ft 6in tall – they don’t play normal golf – and I would say they had an average weight of about 17½ stone. I am 5ft 11in and just over 13½ stone.”
Born in Oxford, Aziz was nine months old when his family moved to Washington, where he went to Park View Community School before passing his A-levels at Durham School.
His father Kamran, who lives in Ponteland, owns the Team Valley company Asset Management Solutions and is the md of Oxford Hotels and Inns Ltd, whose corporate head office is in Kent.
A marketing expert, Aziz is taking a two-year career break to live the dream and have a stab at making it as a golf pro. He flies out to Florida today for three months preparation for the 2012 season and will alternate between living there and at his flat in North Shields.
He said: “I want to enter as many good amateur strokeplay tournaments as I can this year and then have a go at getting on the Europro Tour in 2013. I am lucky in that my dad can sponsor me and I am going to work hard in an effort to repay his backing.”
It’s a tall order for a man whose golfing claim to fame is that the closest he came to winning the Washington club championship was in 2005, when he returned what would have been the winning score – had he remembered to sign his scorecard.
Said Harrison: “A pro career is do-able for Imran. He is not big enough to make it as a professional long driver and right now he is not a good enough golfer to become a regular tour pro.
“But he’s had a few lessons and I saw a lot of improvement in his control, which is the part of the game natural big hitters tend to lack.
“There’s a huge difference between long driving championships and real golf. The guys in those events use drivers which are illegal in competition anywhere else – they’re four inches longer and there’s half as much loft.
“The shaft is also three times as stiff – otherwise they would end up whipping the club round their necks at the end of their follow through.
“Imran does have natural ability and an aptitude for the sport. Also, he says he wants to work really hard at it, which is vital. So yes, he’s got a genuine chance.”
Aziz has a coaching team from heaven. When he’s in Florida he is guided by an ex-pat European Tour winner, David Whelan from Peterlee, who beat Nick Faldo, Barry Lane and Mark Mouland in a play-off to capture the 1988 Barcelona Open.
That was during Whelan’s first year on tour at the age of 26 and he was able to play only after borrowing £500 from his parents. When he collected the £33,000 cheque, it was described as a rags to riches story.
Now 50 and a director at the David Leadbetter academy at Bradenton, Florida, Whelan is a former Ryder Cup player who was a member of Castle Eden and Seaton Carew before a spell coaching at Wynyard.
Last summer Whelan coached Paula Creamer (US Women’s Open) Peter Uihlein (US Amateur) and Doris Chen (US Girls Junior) to three top American titles.
So over to you, Aziz. With Harrison and Whelan on side, there’s no excuses!