Glen Burnie `Gilmore' drives toward fame

Fan of step and swing, Zianio, 24, reaches final of distance event in Nev.

July 02, 2002|By Alex Kopicki | Alex Kopicki,SUN STAFF

Andy Zianio of Glen Burnie compares his swing to that of Happy Gilmore, the golfer in the 1996 film comedy starring Adam Sandler.

"It actually works," says Zianio, describing the unusual stroke. "You can hit it farther. I can take a baseball step and swing."

Regardless of Zianio's trick-shot talents, he used a traditional swing to win the Long Island Pinnacle Distance Challenge on June 15. Zianio's 327-yard strike won him $10,000 and a trip to Nevada, where he will compete in the finals of the Pinnacle Tournament.

Ultimately, distance is the key to any driving competition. However, contestants also had to manage a landing zone of 50 to 70 yards wide; shots missing the target area were not recorded.

With only a three-shot allowance, the field of 300 competitors was soon narrowed as participants found difficulty in navigating the tight grid.

With a 327-yard blast, the longest qualifying shot of the day, Zianio easily advanced to the 10-man final where each competitor went head-to-head against Pinnacle Distance team member Jason Zuback. "It was a little nerve-racking going up against Zuback," Zianio, 24, says of the four-time Re/Max world long drive champion.

Despite having played golf since he was 10, Zianio was unfamiliar with driving competitions. "My buddies really put me up to competing cause I always drove a long ball," Zianio says.

Zianio placed a respectable third at his first long distance driving competition, April 17 in Brown Summit, N.C. Before the spring he never knew such competitions existed. "If I can do it as a living I'd love to," he says.

An informational services manager for MXEnergy, Zianio is married and the father of a 4-year-old boy. He and his wife are expecting again in September.

Although, Zianio has found his time more constrained lately, he is still "tweaking" his game, practicing one hour twice a week.

He will also compete in three district divisional tournaments before the main event.

At the Pinnacle Distance Finals on Oct. 17, in Mesquite, Nev., Zianio will have a chance to win $100,000 by defeating John Daly, 10-time PGA Tour driving distance champion.

"I'm going to be nervous," Zianio says. "In New York, there were 300 competitors. There will be 500 to 1,000 people there for the finals.

"If I hit a good shot early though, I'll try anything for 5 extra yards," he says, referring to his unconventional step and swing technique.

That would be likely to turn some heads whether successful or not.

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