Robin Barwick blogs about the USPGA Championship long drive competition, which returned for the first time in 20 years ahead of the 96th event at Valhalla
Rory McIlroy was the favourite, and Adam Scott was a contender. So was Bubba Watson until he inexplicably opted to take a three-iron off the 10th tee. This was not for the 2014 PGA Championship, you understand, which has got underway today Valhalla Golf Club, but for the Tuesday Long Drive Competition that the PGA of America revived this year.
Not many picked little old Louis Oosthuizen to win it though, but the 5-foot-10, 12-stone South African piped a drive 340 yards on the par-five 10th, out-driving runner-up Jason Day by two yards, and Oosthuizen’s friend and playing partner, club pro Johan Kok, by three yards. Scott was 20 yards back (with the first shot of his dawn round, to be fair) and McIlroy, bless him, was not even in the top-10.
The Long Drive competition at the PGA Championship was played for the first time since 1984, and with a fitting final touch of class from the PGA of America – credit where credit is due – winner Oosthuizen was yesterday presented with a gold money clip for his success.
PGA of America president Ted Bishop explains the story behind the prize.
“Phil Mickelson was with Jack Nicklaus and noticed that Nicklaus had some old, gold money clip that was worn out,” starts Bishop. “Phil asked Jack what it was, and Jack said, ‘This is the money clip I won at the 1963 PGA Championship in Dallas when I won the Long Drive Contest’. Phil said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding – all the money clips you have been given in your career, yet that is still the money clip you carry?’ Jack said, ‘I’ll tell you what, George Bayer was the longest hitter on the PGA Tour at the time, he was the favourite to win the Contest, but I upset him and won it. To this day, I feel it was one of the greatest victories of my career.’
“It was great to hear Phil tell that story and it really set the stage for what we did.”
Oosthuizen, the proud recipient of the gold money clip, said: “I knew I had to find that extra gear, and normally when I do that it doesn’t go straight, but I think the wind was in my favour. It was a lot of fun.”
The Long Drive revival is a great initiative that enhances the entertainment value of a PGA Championship practice day. It is a novelty that draws attention to the tournament, to the sport and to the exceptional athleticism of the world’s best players. And let’s not pretend that golf can afford to lose any followers. A columnist in the USA Today newspaper today described tour golf without Tiger Woods as “one big yawn”.
So why on Earth did the PGA Tour’s longest driver, and one of the most popular players in the United States, Bubba Watson, decline to participate?
“Anybody who is a fan of the game is disappointed that Bubba did not compete,” adds Bishop, “but the competition was voluntary.”
Watson is a complicated character with a long record of misjudgments. This one can be added to the list. In contrast, McIlroy only played the front nine in practice on Tuesday, yet headed to the 10th tee just so he could strike the longest drive he could.
Robin Barwick travelled to the PGA Championship courtesy of Mercedes-Benz. Mercedes-Benz is the official car of the PGA Championship