In America, he’s simply known as a golfer who can hit the long ball.
In Japan, Josh Olson is called Mr. 500 Sensei.
Translated, it means he’s the master of the long ball there, too. The 500 is the distance, in yards, that he hit a drive at one of his golf exhibitions recently.
Olson, 30, is a Kalispell native who travels the world spreading a Christian message combined with his golf prowess. He’s recently signed on with Ping, a golf equipment manufacturer. Olson can routinely hit drives over 400 yards, and he’s got seven holes-in-one, four of which are on par fours. Do the math. That’s huge. A hole in one —or four of them — on holes that typically stretch over 380 yards.
He’s taken his long-distance ball-hitting abilities to the professional Long Drivers of America tour, but a back injury sidelined him this year. He plans to be back on that tour in 2008.
Meanwhile, Olson is focusing on building bridges.
“I’m a bridge builder,” he said in an interview Tuesday while playing a round at Big Mountain Golf Club in Kalispell. “I use golf to bridge corporations with their clients, and bring the church to non-church people.”
Golf giant Ping is part of that bridge building for Olson. The Solheim family (the owners of Ping) is noted for their Christian ideals, with many top-level executives being people of the Christian faith, Olson said. When Olson approached Ping to tell them of his Christian message through golf, the company quickly realized the good fit.
They get a person who is a great golfer and who can deliver a message of faith to millions of people worldwide. Olson gets a pulpit from which to deliver that message, through is “Drive the Distance” organization.
“I was amazed with (their Christian ethics),” Olson said. “They walk it, talk it, live it. Having Ping on board added a lot of credibility to us.”
Based in South Carolina, Drive the Distance provides not only Christian ministry. It also brings golf entertainment to businesses around the world. One of those venues is Japan and China, where thousands of people attend events to see the big six-foot-plus Olson smash the golf ball into the next province.
Hence the name Mr. 500 Sensei (master).
“I’m a big novelty in Asia,” Olson said.
In addition to his long-ball abilities, Olson also performs a variety of trick shots, like hitting balls suspended in balloons, balls that explode, or using a putter for a driver.
He can hit a golf ball with his putter over 250 yards, and make good ball contact hitting while kneeling on an exercise ball. At 6-feet 3-inches tall, and weighing about 200 pounds, Olson is a big guy; but he’s a “midget” on the long drive tour, compared to one player who is 6-foot 7-inches, 280 pounds. “I’m not the biggest, I’m not the fastest, but I’m efficient,” he says with his aw-shucks, Richie Cunningham smile.
Olson, the son of Jon Olson and Rhonda Olson, never played competitive high school golf during his time at Flathead High School and Flathead Christian School, but he excelled in baseball and basketball.
While his father was building homes at golf courses around the Flathead Valley, Josh might sneak off to hit balls.
After high school he qualified for professional mini tours in Washington and Canada before a friend convinced him to try out for the Long Drivers of America.
With a tight, compact swing, Olson has recorded eight drives of over 500 yards, his longest stopping at 525 yards. That’s not to mention his seven holes-in-one. Olson has aced the 361-yard par-four eighth hole at Buffalo Hill Golf Club in Kalispell; the 338-yard par four 11th hole at Eagle Bend in Bigfork; and the 329-yard second hole on the north course at Whitefish Lake Golf Club. His other aces were on par threes at Buffalo Hill and in Washington.
The tricks he performs are for fun, and they’re incredible to watch. But the message is about focus. And risk, and faith. Traits that are needed in golf — and in life, Olson says.
On the Web: www.drivethedistance.org