Local golfer’s long-drive career

Steve “Predator” Monroe
Steve “Predator” Monroe

 

BY JEFFREY ZANKER, Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG —  Steve “Predator” Monroe enters the golf course looking for his next win.

With his dreadlocks and gold teeth, Monroe, 38, swings a mean hit on the fairway and lets out a roar of anticipation.

Monroe just competed in October’s 2016 World Long Drive Championship in Thackerville, Okla., and landed in the top 16.

“I should have done better,” Monroe said of his game.

Monroe is a long-time veteran of long-drive golfing. Since childhood, golfing became his main focus. He began playing golf at the Chi Chi Rodriguez Youth Foundation, a non-profit academic organization for at-risk children in Clearwater.

Monroe was raised by his mother Penny, who put him and his older half-brother, DeLawrence Jones, in the Youth Foundation’s afterschool golf program.

Monroe got his knack swinging in golfing competitions. The Chi Chi team won third in the Pee-Wee National Championship in 1992 and won the Boys 16-17 group in 1994.

His youthful athleticism was strong enough to beat his teammates, including DeLawrence. Having his little brother beat him by just a few yards was enough for DeLawrence to quit the game.

“I was sore that my little brother was better at golf,” Jones, 44, said. “But I am proud to watch him play.”

Monroe became a prime golfer while playing for Clearwater High. His playing impressed his coach enough to encourage him to continue playing long drive.

Steve “Predator” Monroe

Steve “Predator” Monroe

After high school he attended Talladega College in Alabama. He helped the Talladega’s Tornados capture the 1997 National Minority Collegiate championships.

In 2002, Monroe began playing in the World Long Drive Championships. He won the 2002 Florida long-drive competition and finished in 17th place the same year at the nationals with a 363-yard drive.

Other career milestones include winning the 2007 RE/MAX St. Louis match with a 350-yard drive and becoming Florida’s 2014 Regional Champion. In August, Monroe broke a new world record with a 467-yard drive at the Miles High Shootout in Colorado.

Monroe’s “Predator” nickname came from Art Sellinger, long-drive pioneer and founder of the Long Drivers of America, because his dreadlocks reminded him of the alien from the “Predator” movies. Sometimes he even introduces himself at competitions with a “Predator” mask on.

“I am always on the hunt,” Monroe said of his nickname.

But Monroe plans to change his role on the golf course.

“The Predator will be dead soon,” he said.

He is deciding on the nickname “Chief” to honor his Indian heritage. His father was a member of the Narragansett tribe in Rhode Island.

In addition to the name change, Monroe will perform a celebration dance to unleash his inner “Chi Chi,” a combination of his family and golfing history.

“People don’t want to watch crickets dancing in the bucket,” Monroe said. “I’m adding some spice to long driving.”

The dance has him taking out a golf club to shoot as an arrow, and then a couple quick swishes from side to side before wiping the blood off to put back in his holster.

But the change is not official yet, he said.

Monroe never takes a break. He always plays against other golfers at local golf clubs such as Vinoy Park and Clearwater Country Club. He prides himself that unlike other long drivers he keeps playing for fun.

“Just keep playing, keep loose and keepin’ it real,” Monroe advises upstart golfers. “It is just playing to the best of your ability and practice makes better.”

“Watching him hit the ball, I ask myself, ‘How the hell he gets that ball so far?’” said Winky Wright, former professional boxer and Monroe’s current manager.

On the side, Monroe demonstrates his talent at charities for organizations such as Chamber of Commerce. Recently, he supported Chi Chi’s Charity Classics by hitting balls for different fundraisers as $20 donations per player.

“Steve shoots better,” said Cary Stiff, senior vice president of Chi Chi Rodriguez Foundation.

Monroe is eyeing bigger competition. He hopes to compete for the 2017 Long Drivers European Tour against other professional drivers.

“It would show my first-class talent to the world,” Monroe said.

Wright hopes to boost Monroe’s career by getting him focus on the game.

“He is a different package,” Wright said proudly of Monroe’s talent.

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