The PGA Championship Long Drive Contest returned again on Tuesday to start off the final Major of the season. This year it took place on the first hole of Balustol Golf Club, a 478-yard par 5, it has become a firm favourite with golf fans and pros alike.
The aim of the contest is to hit the furthest drive possible, with the ball still finishing on the fairway. With some of the longest hitters on tour this is easier said than done. It’s not only a test of distance but also of accuracy – it won’t count if doesn’t hit the fairway and with everyone only getting one shot there is no room for error. The winner of the competition receives a money clip and $25,000 to give to a charity of their choice. Runners up receive $10,000 and $5,000 respectively for their chosen charities.
This competition has been around for a long time, it was first held in 1952 at Big Spring Country Club in Louisville, Kentucky but was later stopped between 1965-1973 and then discontinued again in 1984 after the PGA Championship at Shoal Creek Country Club. It made its official return to the USPGA Championship week in 2014 at Valhalla Golf Club where Louis Oosthuizen was the winner with a 340-yard drive. Jason Day, current world number 1, came in second place after hitting it 2 yards short at 338 yards. The following year at Whistling Straits, Anirban Lahiri took the money clip home by hitting the fairway with a 327-yard drive.
One of the most memorable winners? Jack Nicklaus, who came out on top twice. Using a Persimmon driver Nicklaus ripped the ball 341 yards in 1963 to take the top spot but due to wetter conditions was only able to knock his driver 308 yards in 1964. His gold USPGA money clip which he won in 1963 is something he still uses today; sure he has plenty of use for it!
The competition took another unfortunate turn when, in 2014, Bubba Watson refused to take part in and hit 3 iron down the 10th at Valhalla. He could be heard using profanity to complain about the contest but he later apologized for his ‘selfish’ actions. The majority of the players have enjoyed the return of the Longest Drive Competition and enjoy the difficult challenge it poses. One of the most interesting shots from the contest was in 2015 when Martin Kaymer’s Happy Gilmore-style drive which was a winner with the fans but unfortunately failed to hit the fairway.
Since the reintroduction of the competition a club PGA professional has finished in the Top 5 every year. In 2014 Nashville’s Johan Kok finished 3rd and Matt Dobyns, a club professional from Lake Success N.Y, finished 3rd in 2015 and 5th this year a Balustol. Both of them qualified again to play in the PGA Championship this year thanks to solid finishes at the PGA professionals Championship in June at Turning Stone Resort, N.Y.
This year’s long drive championship was eventful. Rory McIlroy smashed a drive 345 yards early on and held the lead for the majority of the day. Six hours after Rory’s attempt, An Byeong Hun from South Korea stepped up to the tee. He ripped one 2 yards further than the world no. 4 clinching the title from Rory with a 347-yard drive.
By Rachael McQueen, Community Engagement Executive at Shot Scope