Norwin grad Justin Moose thrives on World Long Drive circuit | TribLIVE.com
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Norwin grad Justin Moose thrives on World Long Drive circuit

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Golf Channel
North Huntingdon native Justin Moose competes in the 2018 World Long Drive Championship in 2018.

Nearly a year and a half ago, Norwin grad and professional long drive competitor Justin Moose — with a little encouragement from his wife, Nicole — made a life-changing choice.

The verdict now, Moose said, “It’s definitely the best decision we’ve ever made.”

Moose, who last year quit his job as a site manager at a distribution center to train full time for competing on the World Long Drive circuit, is reaping the rewards of that decision. He completed a successful tour season with a quarterfinal finish earlier this month at the World Long Drive Championships in Thackerville, Okla.

Moose opened the 2018 season with a win at the East Coast Classic near his home in Columbia, S.C. After that win, his third on the tour but first since 2013, Moose decided it was time to rethink what he needed to do to contend every time in events where the world’s longest hitters drive golf balls more than 400 yards with regularity.

“My wife kind of kicked me in the butt and said, ‘You’re really good at this,’ ” Moose said. “I can always go back to sitting behind a desk, but this was a big chance and we wanted to see what we could do with this. Three months later, I was second in the world (in 2018).”

Moose was referring to a runner-up finish at last year’s World Long Drive Championship, where he lost in his first finals appearance at his sport’s biggest tournament. While the 2019 season went without a finals appearance in the single-elimination brackets, Moose displayed consistency as a full-time player by reaching at least the Round of 16 in all but one event, leading to a year-end No. 6 world ranking.

As he has established himself as one of the best long drivers in the world with a long drive of 468 yards, Moose has worn his Western Pa. roots on his sleeve — or, more accurately, in his hand — with a Terrible Towel always in tow and often involved in his exuberant celebrations.

“Any time I come out to compete, I still come out with a Terrible Towel, not just because I’m a Steelers fan, but because my heart is in Pittsburgh,” Moose said. “My family is still there, and we’ll be up there multiple times during the year.”

But just like the decision to leave his job, the decision for Moose to ditch Primanti’s for palmettos was a business move.

“I couldn’t live in the snow anymore,” he said. “I had to move where I can play year round.”

Now that he is focused on long drive 12 months a year, Moose also is mindful to ensure he will be competitive on tour for years to come.

Moose played collegiately at Clarion, so his long drive swing has been adapted from the swing that made him competitive in traditional golf. By maintaining good fundamentals and taking care of his body when away from the driving range, the 33-year-old Moose believes he has at least another decade of high-level long drive play ahead of him.

“There’s a lot of guys, if they have a poor swing from a technical standpoint, they put a lot of stress on their body. I’ve been fortunate, doing long drive for 11 years now, that my swing is sound, and I don’t put the strain on myself,” Moose said. “Some guys lift, move heavy things and beat up their body. I do 30 minutes of yoga every day to help flexibility, do water aerobics, things that take away some of the impact on your body when you work out.”

As much as his workout, residence or anything else, one of the biggest changes in Moose’s shift to full-time long driver has been a change in mindset.

Admittedly, traditional, 18-hole golf was always his first love. And while he still loves the game and plays frequently, his training and focus is on where the paychecks are coming from. His quarterfinal finish at this year’s championships earned a $7,000 payday on top of his other tour finishes during the year, and his 2018 finals appearance scored a healthy $50,000.

“My passion is golf. I got to play in the (Tri-State PGA) Frank Fuhrer (Invitational) this year, which is one of my favorite events, but, ultimately, my bread and butter is in the long drive world,” Moose said. “I like to be the big fish in the little pond. In golf, I’m one of thousands. In long drive, I’m in the top 10.

“This year, I was really on pace to improve and get back to the finals, but I had one of the worst performances I’ve had in an eight-ball set in the quarterfinals. It kind of stinks, but it’s got me motivated for next year already.”

Long drive also fits Moose’s personality. The 6-foot-3, 237-pounder is known for being demonstrative after his big drives, which is perfect for the made-for-Golf Channel broadcasts and crowds encouraged to be louder than your typical golf gallery.

“I do thrive on that, especially when the crowd cheers, ‘Mooooose!’ ” he said. “The more angry you get, you can use that adrenaline to power through. In golf, that hurts you, but in long drive, you can get pumped up and swing as hard as you want.”

Matt Grubba is a contributing writer.

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