Mike Dunaway (1955–2014)

Mike Dunaway suffered a permanent injury to his back playing football for the University of Central Arkansas (UCA) in Conway (Faulkner County), so he took up the game of golf and became an international legend for consistently driving a golf ball farther off the tee than anyone in the world. He parlayed that skill into a career, creating celebrity tournaments and founding golf’s 350 Club, as well as the Long Drivers Association of America. His publicity stunts, popular instructional videos, celebrity events, and camaraderie with a few of professional golf’s legends made him famous, although he never perfected the rest of his golf game to become a tournament golfer.

Michael Lee Dunaway was born in Conway on February 1, 1955, to Oscar Lee Dunaway and Dorothy Mae Woods Dunaway. His great-uncle and elderly neighbor was author and newspaper salesman Louis Sharpe Dunaway.

Mike Dunaway was a husky athlete (five feet, eleven inches tall, 245 pounds) who played linebacker for Conway High School and UCA. On the first play of UCA’s 1975 season, he injured his back and never played again. An experimental series of cortisone shots down his spine at the hospital left his right hip numb for decades.

Dunaway thus took up golf and developed techniques for using his unusual arm and body strength in ways that sent golf balls flying off the tee for long distances, accurately and consistently. He moved with his family to Las Vegas, Nevada, and his father entered him in a golf tournament as an amateur. A machine at the tournament clocked his clubhead speed off the driver head at 131 miles per hour, reportedly a world record.

He was a protégé of Mike Austin, a German-born kinesiologist who played golf professionally and perfected the long drive. For a while, the Guinness Book of World Records listed Austin as having the longest drive in a tournament in history—515 yards. Dunaway credited Austin with teaching him how to use his arms and hands precisely to get the maximum power and distance without exacerbating his hip problem.

Dunaway helped build a worldwide image through various publicity stunts. He drove golf balls from the rooftops of the Caesar’s Palace and The Dunes hotels in Las Vegas, and across canyons. He became a golf instructor for the Ely Callaway Golf and Learning Center at Oceanside, California, and the tester for new golf clubs for Callaway Golf Company, the maker of the Big Bertha driver. His friend John Daly of Arkansas, professional golf’s legendary long driver and winner of the British Open championship, and Greg Norman, another golf celebrity, were among those who expressed amazement at Dunaway’s easy-looking but massive drives off the tee. Dunaway often made money from his stunts. He won $25,000 in a distance shootout in Texas and $40,000 from the world’s richest long-line drive contest in Japan.

Dunaway appeared on the cover of Golf magazine twice. The first time, he stood on a pile of money, which he said amounted to $10,000, and declared that he would hand the cash to anyone who could drive a golf ball farther than he did. One long-ball hitter stepped up and lost. That issue’s newsstand sales hit an all-time record. Dunaway coauthored the 1992 book Hit it Hard! with John Andrisani.

Dunaway settled in Rogers (Benton County) in the 1990s after his back deteriorated to the point that he could no longer easily drive a ball out of sight, but his promotional instincts did not wane. He taught notable figures such as University of Arkansas (UA) athletic director Frank Broyles and Senator John Boozman to be good golfers and hosted a television show, Golfing Arkansas.

Dunaway married Candace Lynn Lee of Maumelle (Pulaski County) and reared four daughters. After moving to Rogers, he was elected to the Rogers School Board.

Dunaway died on September 29, 2014, of complications from diabetes. Evan Demirel, historian of Arkansas sports, wrote upon Dunaway’s death that he became “a one-man marketing hurricane in the niche sport of long driving, in which the act of hitting as much hell out of a ball as is physically possible with a piece of graphite becomes something like science.” He is buried in Oak Grove Cemetery in Conway with other members of the Dunaway clan, including his mother and father, as well as his great-uncle Sharpe Dunaway.

For additional information:
Demirel, Evan. “Arkansan Mike Dunaway, Whom Greg Norman Called World’s Longest Driver, Dies.” Best of Arkansas Sports, September 30, 2014. https://www.bestofarkansassports.com/arkansan-mike-dunaway-whom-greg-norman-called-the-worlds-longest-driver-dies/ (accessed November 4, 2022).

Dunaway, Mike, and John Andrisani. Hit It Hard! The Modern Fundamentals of Power Golf. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992.

Obituary of Michael Lee Dunaway. Obituary, Log Cabin Democrat, September 30, 2014.

Ernest Dumas
Little Rock, Arkansas


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