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Remembering Bubba Watson's protest at Valhalla at the 2014 PGA Championship

May 13, 2024
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Andrew Redington

LOUISVILLE — Valhalla is hosting the 2024 PGA Championship, the fourth time the course has served as the venue for the PGA of America's flagship event. And while the Louisville course has produced a number of indelible scenes as PGA host, it’s worth remembering one of Valhalla's weirder moments: A protest over a long drive contest.

In 1949 the PGA Championship held a long drive event during practice rounds. The competition became popular with the field and spectators, and winning brought a level of bragging rights to the victor. For example, Jack Nicklaus, who won the long drive in 1963 and 1964, still carries his “trophy”—a gold money clip—with him to this day. "It was a great gallery favorite," Nicklaus said in 2014. "The people came out and they watched it. You went out and saw big, long drives, things you probably wouldn't do in the tournament. I think it created some excitement."

The event became such a hit that it was eventually spun off into its own entity; in 1974 the long drive event moved away from the PGA Championship to broaden those who could enter, which ushered in a new era of contestants who specialized in solely hitting bombs. But after a 30-year hiatus the PGA of America resurrected the long drive event for a practice round, tabbing the 590-yard par-5 10th for players to swing away for the prize.

Bubba Watson, however, was not amused.

Watson, then the reigning Masters champ, did not find the event to be fun, ripping the PGA of America for the decision.

“I want to practice the game of golf,” he said. “I want to learn this golf course. I haven’t seen the 10th hole. I don’t see that we should have a competition like that while we’re playing a practice round and learning the golf course, trying to win a great championship. There’s no reason to make something up in the middle of the practice round like that. That’s just me. Like it or not, that’s just who I am.”

To illustrate his displeasure, when Watson was introduced during a Tuesday practice round on the 10th tee, Watson pulled out a 3-iron. Given he hit a driver at the 10th the rest of the week, Watson made sure to let the media know the iron wasn’t an accident.

“I was just trying to prove a point that nobody cared about,” Watson said after the contest. “I’m here to win a championship. I’m not here to goof around.” He later added the contest “just seems hokey to me.”

Watson made the cut but did not factor into the championship, ultimately finishing T-64.

There will be no controversy this year. Watson did not qualify for the event, and the PGA of America again discontinued the long drive. Nevertheless, Watson’s protest is a charming mark in the PGA’s oddity-filled history.