Wearing his trademark pants by sponsor Loudmouth Golf, Worth County native Donnie Parker works on his long drive stroke off the tee during a recent practice session at River Pointe Golf Club in Albany. Parker, who has always been a big swinger, took a suggestion from his wife, Abby, a little more than a year ago to start entering long-drive contests, and now he finds him one qualifier away from competing in Las Vegas for the RE/MAX World Long Drive Championship and the largest prize pool in the sport’s history: $250,000. (john.millikan@albanyherald.com)

Wearing his trademark pants by sponsor Loudmouth Golf, Worth County native Donnie Parker works on his long drive stroke off the tee during a recent practice session at River Pointe Golf Club in Albany. Parker, who has always been a big swinger, took a suggestion from his wife, Abby, a little more than a year ago to start entering long-drive contests, and now he finds him one qualifier away from competing in Las Vegas for the RE/MAX World Long Drive Championship and the largest prize pool in the sport’s history: $250,000. (john.millikan@albanyherald.com)

ALBANY --- It’s been 14 months since Donnie Parker sat in an Albany restaurant with his wife, Abby, and began to dream.

And it was Abby who prodded her husband to dream bigger than ever.

“Why don't you try and do long drive?” Abby remembers asking her husband over an Italian dinner last summer, referring to Donnie’s extraordinary distance he achieves driving off the tee on the golf course.

“I didn’t know you wanted me to,” Donnie replied.

Abby instantly fired back.

“Are you crazy?” she said. “You will win (a national championship).”

Parker has been chasing his wife’s prophecy since that night, taking his driver and a handful of tees to long drive contests around the country and swinging away for the dream.

Parker, an Albany resident and Worth County grad, finally struck gold late in July when he finished second in a regional championship to advance to the RE/MAX World Long Drive Championship next month in Mesquite, Nev., where he will compete with nearly 200 of the top long drivers around the globe for a world title.

It all started over a plate of ravioli.

“I never would have dreamed that I would be playing for a world championship one year and two months since that talk,” Parker said.

Actually, you will have to back up a couple of decades to learn why Parker, 29, is able to crush a golf ball 400-plus yards every time he pulls his driver out of the bag.

“My uncle told me at a young age to learn how to hit the ball far when I was still young,” Parker said, referring to the advice of Chris Murman, the Director of Golf at Houston Lake Country Club in Perry. “He said you can learn to hit it straight later. That’s the mentality I grew up with. From the time I was 10 or 11 years old, I didn’t care how straight it went. I just swung out of my shoes.”

And he’s never stopped swinging.

He went on to play at Worth County High School, where he was the No. 1 golfer and earned a spot on the Darton College golf team. During his sophomore year in 2004 with the nationally ranked Cavs, he was two shots out of the individual lead heading into the last round of the NJCAA Division II national tournament but fired a final-round 86 after a wild series of events took him out of his game.

“The kid I was playing with almost died from food poisoning,” Parker explained. “I saw him bending over, and the next thing I knew he had blacked out. I picked him up and put him in the cart, but then he woke up and said he was OK. A couple of holes later he passed out again, and this time he threw up on my arm. So I stopped caring about golf right then and just started caring about that kid living.”

Parker lost out on an All-American status because of his final round, but he still left quite a legacy at Darton.

“He could smoke it,” Darton golf coach Dale Dover said. “He could move it. He is one of the longest hitters we have ever had at Darton, if not the longest.”

Parker went from Darton to Troy University, where he had a 75.6 scoring average in 32 competitive rounds, and it was with the Trojans when he hit the longest drive of his career — a 460-yard bomb down the fairway on a 600-yard par five, leaving him with a simple lob wedge to reach the green.

Parker said he’s never played a round where somebody didn’t make a comment about his driving distance.

“It’s something you never really get numb to,” Parker said about hearing compliments about his drives. “It’s nice to hear, but at the same time it’s something that you can’t let get into your head.”

Parker, who is currently a student at Georgia Southwestern, dabbled with a couple of small, professional tournaments in his 20s but mostly played golf casually — that is until that Italian dinner a little over a year ago.

Since then he has practiced and competed with his driver — and not much else. When he shows up at the driving range, his golf bag holds roughly half a dozen clubs. Almost half of them are drivers or woods.

Surprisingly, however, most of his training for his long driving doesn’t involve a golf ball.

“I exercise about five times a week, and about three days a week I do a little bit of weight lifting,” he said. “I don’t hit a lot of balls. I do a lot of speed training without hitting balls. I will jump rope in the yard and then swing. It’s something to continue to keep my pulse up.”

Depending on conditions, Parker can regularly hit the ball more than 400 yards. At a local qualifier earlier this year, he hit a drive 430 yards to advance to the regional qualifier in Browns Summit, N.C., where he hit a 366-yard drive in uphill, into-the-wind conditions to finish second — three yards out of first place — and qualify for the world championship.

“Once I hit the ball 366 yards, I knew I had qualified,” Parker said. “The nerves kicked in then, and I could hardly get the ball teed up for the rest of my shots.”

Parker said teeing the ball could be the most difficult part of next month’s national championship, where he will be competing for a spot in the Oct. 30 finale live on the Golf Channel — a winner-take-all climax during which the competitors will hit off a platform 30 feet in the air at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

“I just have to get the tee in the ground,” he said. “That’s what I will be working on in the next seven weeks.”

The rest, Parker says, will come as second nature once he steps up to hit the ball.

“I do feel like I have a chance to win,” he said. “Getting there is one thing. The majority of the guys who can get there all have a chance. It’s about handling your emotions and trusting your swing.”

Parker’s swing isn’t like most of the other professional long drivers who will converge on Nevada next month.

“Most of the long drive guys approach it as swing speed only,” he said. “I approach my long-drive swing the same way I approach my golf swing. I really just try to use a good, fundamental swing with more power.”

Parker, who is being sponsored by Loudmouth Golf for the world championship, uses a driver and shaft that are both legal golf clubs on the PGA Tour. He swings a Krank Golf, 440-cc driver with a House of Forged shaft.

The winner of the open division championship will earn $250,000, the largest championship purse in RE/MAX World Long Drive Championship history. Those interested in sponsoring Parker’s quest for the title can email him at info@parkerpowergolf.com or visit his website at parkerpowergolf.com.