It was 11 months ago when Mike Dunaway and I had lunch. It was to talk about an unusual business development, a new career as a song writer.
That was a stretch, but not completely odd for Dunaway, the man credited for creating the long drive circuit in golf. He had a touring group of big hitters that circled world in the 1980s, eventually producing the Long Drive Association. He was given a lifetime achievement award last October, the reason for our lunch.
Dunaway created the “350 club” for long drivers in Las Vegas in '85. They hit big drives off sky scrapers, over canyons. It was legendary stuff.
Dunaway, 59, died Monday from diabetes complications, something he had battled for the last two decades. He had been near death for several months two years ago, hospitalized for over a month with lung issues.
When we visited, Mike had all but given up hitting a golf ball because of the pain it caused with his lungs and shoulders. His body weight was well down from the no-fat 245 that was his playing weight all the way back to his football days at UCA when we sometimes teamed to win two-man scrambles.
Dunaway was the ultimate scramble partner. Not only did he have a big drive, he was solid everywhere else. He was extremely good with the long putter. His only problem was distance control with his short irons. He could hit his wedge – or any other club – about any distance. Measuring it to pin high was always the problem.
If you want to watch a thing of beauty, go to YouTube for any number of Dunaway videos on the golf swing. There are some of him hitting shot after shot with a rare thing for a long drive specialist, a beautiful golf swing with normal length clubs.
Dunaway could teach the swing, too. Among those who treasured his advice on the practice range was Frank Broyles, the former Arkansas athletic director and football coach. Dunaway liked to tell Broyles, “You've figured it out, too. If you just could putt, you would be ready for the Senior Tour!”
There was always humor in Dunaway conversations. He'd laugh and make sure you did, too. He encouraged and saw the good in everything. A devout Christian, he had served on the Rogers School Board after being urged to run by John Boozman. Dunaway taught Boozman to play golf.
Broyles loved his time with Dunaway, calling him “a great believer and God sent.” They played many rounds together.
“It was always amazing to see the places he hit the golf ball,” Broyles said. “I had never seen anyone be that far. And, if you watched his swing, it was smooth and with great rhythm. You would not think that swing would produce such length with such ease.
“As a teacher, there was a great knack for how to explain the basics. He learned the game from the basics and could teach them.
“Mike was a real giver. He wanted to help others. It gave him great joy when he made his students happy with how they could hit the golf ball.”
Boozman sought Dunaway for golf lessons after a conversation with Broyles.
“I met Mike because of Coach Broyles,” Boozman said. “I was trying to learn the game and Coach Broyles told me, ‘The best golf coach in the world lives in Rogers and I’ve taken lessons from everyone.’ I went and found him and we became very close.
“Everyone knows that golf was important to him, but I think the Lord, family and football were also high with him. He loved high school football -- and he always had a golf tournament to raise money for Conway High football -- and he loved the Razorbacks. But what I remember the most about Mike, he was a good guy, a guy’s guy. He had a lot of friends.
“We ran for school board together. I talked him into it and he got involved and was great. He was a big reason that our Rogers foundation became strong. He did a great job. He left a strong legacy on the school board.
"Coach Broyles was right. He taught you the basics and you learned the swing all the way through. He was an excellent teacher, but a better person. When I first was around him, he was traveling all over the world to give those long drive shows. But he still made time to be a good family man, in church and good for our community."
I counted Mike as a friend on and off the golf course. Mike tried to give me lessons many times. We'd hit balls together for about 40 years dating back to college. We played together many times, often as partners.
My golf swing is a block move to keep from hooking the ball. My lower body is dead. I wanted to keep it in play at almost all costs. But it's not a way to get maximum distance. He told me, "We are going to get you to turn your hips so you can release that right hand and turn it over. You'll get to all the par fives in two."
Mike said I had a horrific look on my face. Then, he said, "Never mind. You can find your bad shots. I can't."
Dunaway spent the last couple of years working on big on-line projects on the golf swing. He thought something big was happening with his newest, “Dunaway’s 19th Hole,” a live webinar where he could interact directly on-line with pupils. Invitations were set to be emailed this week.
Last year I asked him why he didn't just book lessons at a country club, the traditional way to teach golf.
“I have to shoot for the moon,” Mike said. “That’s always what I’ve done. When I die, that’s what it’s going to say on my grave, he went for the moon.”
And, that's how it will be. Like the golf swing, Mike Dunaway had Mike Dunaway figured out.
Broyles: Dunaway 'God Sent'
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