PGA Championship Long Drive Competition

  • PGA Long Drive Competition

PGA Championship Long Drive Competition

Since the first golf-like game (called apocryphally) took place in 1297 in the Dutch province of Utrecht, you would have to believe that the Dutchman who struck the leather ball the farthest with a crooked wooden stick was envied by his fellow competitors. By 1387, anyone striking a ball with a “couf” (club) inside the town limits would be fined 20 shillings, or his overcoat would be confiscated, indicating the new sport had become too dangerous to be played within the city walls. Although not documented, one would assume this was due to a vicious hook or slice. In the 15th century, the modern game was first played on a designated course in Scotland where a round of golf consisted of between nine to eighteen holes and was complete with tee boxes, putting greens, and hazards. The first private golf club in the United States opened in Bridgeport (Connecticut)in 1895, the same year as the first public golf course opened in the Bronx New York.

By the time, the PGA (Professional Golfers Association) was established in Great Britain and Ireland in 1901, golf was being played in many countries around the world. That same year, American Walter Travis was the first to win a major tournament (his second U.S. Amateur title) using a rubber-core golf ball. The PGA of America was founded fifteen years later, and Jim Barnes won the inaugural PGA Championship. In 1933, American golfer Craig Wood would hit the longest drive every recorded in major championship of 430 yards on the fifth hole at the Old Course during the British Open. Wood also won the PGA Championship event that same year. Although briefly interrupted with the onset of World War II, golf product manufacturers began a diligent search for a “best” design for golf balls and golf clubs with the USGA starting to establish limits on ball size and weight as well as allowing for steel-shafted golf clubs with wooden heads that dominated until Gary Adams (founder of Taylor Made Golf) introduced the modern metal wood in the late 1970s.

PGA Long Drive Events (1949-1975)

The first Long Drive Competition started in 1949 during the PGA Championship, at Hermitage Country Club in Richmond, Virginia, when Chick Harbert won inaugural event with a 305-yard drive. Five years later, the Ohio-native won the PGA Championship at Keller Golf Club outside St. Paul, Minnesota. Harbert would be named player-captain of the 1955 Ryder Cup team. Although not played every year, the PGA Championship Long Drive Competition would become a popular event at the major with competitors teeing it up on Tuesdays. The Golden Bear would rekindle fan interest in the tournament winning in 1963 at the Dallas Athletic Club with a shot of 341 yards, 17 inches using a Persimmon head driver and a wound ball. Jack Nicklaus received a gold money clip for winning the contest and is said to still carry the memento in his pocket to this day. The legendary golfer repeated his accomplishment winning the PGA Championship Long Drive Competition the next year at the 46th PGA Championship played at Columbus Country Club on his hometown course.

Pro Long Drivers - PGA Event Winners

  • 1949 – Chick Harbert @ Keller Golf Club (305) 
  • 1963 – Jack Nicklaus @ Dallas Athletic (341) 
  • 1964 – Jack Nicklaus @ Columbus CC (357)
  • 1974 – Evan Williams @ Tanglewood  (366)
  • 1975 Jeoff Long – @ Butler National (322)

In 1974, the professional long drive event moved away from the PGA Championship to broaden the field and include a new era of long drivers who were not necessarily polished golfers but had developed unique skills as big hitters. That year, one of the world’s longest drivers, Evan “Big Cat” Williams became the first winner of the World Challenge Long Drive Contest with a 366-yard drive. Emerging as the game’s first Renaissance Man, Williams stood 6 foot, 6 inches in height and had the physique of a body builder. Big Cat would go on to win back-to-back world titles and became famous for his long drive exhibitions that included trick shots, such as driving a golf ball through the missing phone book from Big Cat's hotel room. The gentle giant of Polish descent was a fan favorite in the 26 countries and 45 states where he appeared. Beginning in 1976, South Korean golf equipment manufacturer Volvik provided major sponsorship for a pro long drive series that was dedicated to determining the longest hitter in the world each year.

PGA Long Drive Events (2014-2019)

Thirty years after the PGA Championship Long Drive Competition had given birth to a whole new sporting event, the PGA decided to bring back its long drive event at the 2014 PGA Championship at Valhalla Golf Club. Not only did the event rekindled memories for the Golden Bear, but the PGA also decided to award replicas of the gold money clip that Nicklaus had so proudly carried in his pocket for five decades. The 590-yard, par-5 tenth hole at Valhalla was selected for the contest and Louis Oosthuizen recorded the longest drive at 340 yards.  Anirban Lahiri of India captured the 2015 PGA Championship Long Drive Competition with a blast of 327 yards on the second hole of at Whistling Straits in Kohler, Wisconsin. South Korea’s Byeong-Hun An won the 2016 PGA Championship Long Drive Competition at Baltusrol Golf Club, Lower Course with a 347-yard poke. The 2017 PGA Championship Long Drive Competition went to one of the Tour’s longest hitters, Jason Kokrak with a 321-yard drive on a cloudy, wet day at Quail Hollow.

Pro Long Drivers - PGA Event Winners

  • 2014 – Louis Oosthuizen @ Valhalla GC (340)
  • 2015 – Anirban Lahiri @ Whistling Straits (327)
  • 2016 – Byeong-Hun An @ Baltusrol Golf Club (347)
  • 2017 – Justin Kokrah @ Quail Hollow (321)
  • 2018 – Byrson DeChambeau @ Bellerive (331)
  • 2019 – Max Homa @ Bethpage Black (318)

The PGA Tour’s current Renaissance Man, Bryson DeChambeau, who is five inches shorter than Evan “Big Cat” Williams, topped the competition at the 2018 PGA Championship Long Drive Competition with a 331-yard drive at Bellerive Golf Club. In 2019, Max Homa won the PGA Championship Long Drive Competition on a cold and wet day at Bethpage Black with a 318-yard blast. During the off season before the start of the 2020 PGA season, DeChambeau began putting on some 50 pounds of muscle to increase the length of his drives in tournament competition. The winner of the U.S. Open expressed that he had become a fan of World Champion pro long drivers Kyle Berkshire (2019) and Justin James (2018), and had studied how both men were able to generate incredible speed using a USGA-approved driver. Who knows, after a 112-year absence from the Olympic Games, golf returned for the 2016 Rio Games, so maybe the world of long drive can realistically look forward to the day a pro long driver wins Olympic Gold.

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