Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Long Hitter Was a Big Hit; Cut off from Society, James Flourished on 'Big Break'

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Long Hitter Was a Big Hit; Cut off from Society, James Flourished on 'Big Break'

Article excerpt

Byline: GARRY SMITS

Checking into the Mesquite Resort in Nevada to begin filming of The Golf Channel's Big Break VIII was like arriving at a boot camp with golf courses and a casino.

That's how Ponte Vedra Beach resident Gerry James described a 15-day period last summer when he and 11 other professional golfers began filming the latest series of The Golf Channel's reality show.

"They took your cell phone, your laptop if you had one ... any way of communicating with the outside world," said James, a two-time national long-drive champion. "You were cut off from everything, except for what was at the resort."

The good news is that the food was excellent. The experience was even better the longer you lasted in the show, in which one competitor was eliminated each episode.

James lasted longer than most. In an irony that only golf could produce, the 6-foot-6, 245-pound former body-builder, pro wrestler and bouncer survived one skills challenge after another with his short irons, short game and putting, and reached the final four before he was eliminated on the 10th episode.

And Big Break producer Jay Kossoff said James was one of the dominant personalities that resulted in the second-highest overall ratings for a Big Break season, behind only Big Break III -- the first all-female show.

"Big Break VIII was very popular because for the first time, every competitor had played professional golf on some level, and the big prize at the end of it all was an spot in a PGA Tour event [the Mayokoba Classic in February]," Kossoff said. "But it also was popular because we had a lot of distinctive personalities, and Gerry was one of them. He was very easygoing and laid back, but people liked watching Gerry because you knew he could drive the ball a mile and also had this incredible touch around the greens for being a monster of a man."

In addition to James, there was the eventual winner, Brian Kontak, he of the shaved head, leg tattoos and attitude to burn; Benoit Beisser, the goateed playboy; Kevin Taylor, the long-haired "Eliminator," named for his ability to stay alive in elimination contests; the supremely confident Anthony Rodriguez, derisively dubbed "A-God" on one show by Kontak; party animal James Nitties of Australia; and the ever-smiling Hiroshi Matsuo.

The initial group also included former University of Florida player Matt Every and Matt Vick, a former kicker for Tennessee-Chattanooga.

"It was quite a bunch," said Mark Mitchell, a publicist for The Golf Channel. "Things were always interesting."

Sometimes there was friction, which boiled over on-camera.

However, Kossoff said that always makes for compelling viewing.

"A little conflict is never a bad thing," he said. "We never told the guys, 'Go out and pick an argument.' But if they started in on each other, we kept rolling. …

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