Kyle Berkshire

Kyle Berkshire, 24, is going for his second consecutive world championship at the 2021 Professional Long Drive Association World Championships in Mesquite, Nevada, this week.

When Kyle Berkshire walked into a meeting in late 2016 with University of North Texas men’s golf coach Brad Stracke, he was just a sophomore who hadn’t cracked the team’s starting lineup.

But he had impressed Stracke, the Mean Green coaching staff and his teammates with his otherworldly driving skills. Stracke thought Berkshire could be a top-5 long driver in the world at that exact moment with the right equipment.

So when Berkshire arrived for his end-of-semester meeting following the fall season, Stracke suggested he shift his focus from golf to long drive.

“Very few people can say they’re the best in the world at something, and that’s what I told Kyle when he was in my office. It’s like you could be the best in the world at long drive,” Stracke said.

It did not take long for Stracke’s prediction to become true. Just three years later at the age of 22, Berkshire was the long drive world champion and No. 1 player in the world.

Now, Berkshire, 24, will go for his second consecutive world championship at the 2021 Professional Long Drive Association World Championships in Mesquite, Nevada, from Tuesday to Friday.

“I knew if he worked at it,” Stracke said, “he was going to be the best.”

Berkshire arrived in Denton from Maryland, where he was a top amateur player in the state who was known for being long off the tee. And he just kept getting longer while at UNT.

By his sophomore year, he was doing things that Stracke said “just didn’t make any sense” — like consistently hitting the ball farther than his teammates off the tee in qualifying or hitting a 3-iron 270 yards onto the green on one hole.

It was those performances that led Stracke to suggest Berkshire switch his goal from being a PGA Tour member to a long drive champion.

Berkshire said that he had thought about pursuing long drive before his meeting with Stracke, but their discussion was the push he needed to put him on the path he is on today.

“I think it was that he saw that I had a gift for something else,” Berkshire said. “I think we both felt that was the way I could best contribute to the game of golf — and ultimately, he was definitely right.”

The 6-3, 215-pounder’s stock yardage with his drive in 2020 was 360 yards. He has passed the 400-yard mark many times and has smashed the ball as far as 492 yards in competition.

It takes talent and skill to do that but his work ethic might be his greatest asset in his rise to the top of the long drive world and reaching numbers like that.

Bobby Peterson is Berkshire’s coach and a co-founder of the PLDA. He said Berkshire is an incredible worker and pushes himself to reach levels never reached by anyone on the long drive circuit.

“I had another student actually say to me one time that he was the perfect modeling clay for long drive because he works,” Peterson said. “When he gets focused on one element, whether it’s working on his footwork or working with a radar system, working on path or spin axes, he just gets out there and works until he achieves his goals.”

The 2019 world championship was his to lose, Berkshire said, and he was glad he didn’t let the moment slip away. Golf Digest called his win the “least-shocking news ever.”

He hopes to seize the moment again.

The tournament field in Nevada is full of formidable and big-name participants, from 2017 world champion Justin James to 2020 U.S. Open champion Bryson DeChambeau, who will be participating just days after representing the United States at the Ryder Cup.

But Berkshire — the defending champion, the world No. 1, the face of the sport — is still the man to beat.

For his first major long drive tournament in two years, Berkshire has been preparing vigorously for three weeks. He has a strict preparation protocol for big events, and he said he missed going through that process.

It’s a process that works, too. Berkshire reached a career-high club speed this week of 158.2 miles per hour (no one broke 140 mph on the PGA Tour in 2021) and topped out at over 230 miles per hour on his ball speed (no one on the tour cracked 200 mph).

Berkshire is No. 1 in the world for a reason. The world championship is just another opportunity to prove it.

“You can never guarantee a win, but I feel very confident about my chances,” Berkshire said. “I feel like I’ve done pretty much everything I can to prepare myself to have the best chance of a positive outcome.”