Lahiri, a native of India and a player on the Asian and European Tours, outdistanced the field at the 2015 PGA Championship Long Drive Competition, held at Whistling Straits’ 593-yard par-5 second hole on Tuesday.
The drive from Lahiri easily bounced past the flag indicating J.B. Holmes’ lead at the time of 315 yards, rolled to the left edge of the fairway and came to a stop 327 yards from the tee.
Once the flag was moved for Lahiri, it stayed there for the rest of the day.
Lahiri will be rewarded with a gold money clip like the one Jack Nicklaus won for winning the Long Drive Competition in 1963 and still uses, as well as a $25,000 donation to a charity of his choosing.
The Long Drive Competition made a comeback at last year’s PGA Championship at Valhalla, as it was held for the first time since 1984 at Shoal Creek in Birmingham, Alabama. Louis Oosthuizen surprised the field in 2014 by winning with a 340-yard drive, two yards better than Jason Day. This year, he only played the back nine, so he didn’t take the opportunity to defend his title.
“My nine holes were the opposite,” Oosthuizen said. “So I didn't even hit that shot this year. Struggling last week with the driver, I think I probably would have just missed the fairway.”
“But it's a great fun event. I think it's great for the crowd, for the people to see that, to see the guys standing there and giving it a good bash.”
For the second consecutive year, a PGA Professional finished in the top three of the competition, with Matt Dobyns coming the closest to unseating Lahiri. Dobyns, who won the 2015 PGA Professional National Championship (his second title there), crushed his tee shot 323 yards. Last year, PGA professional Johan Kok finished third.
Earning third place this time around was Holmes’ 315-yard effort, which was part of a morning flurry of long shots that kept the scoreboard operator busy, but only temporarily. Despite many of the participants commenting that taking a turn in the warmer weather of the afternoon may be an advantage, those that came through later in the day barely threatened.
For the second- and third-place finishers, respective amounts of $15,000 and $10,000 are given to their designated charities. After Dobyns and Holmes, Jimmy Walker (314) and Jordan Spieth (313) rounded out the top five. Keegan Bradley (310) finished sixth, with Charles Frost (309) seventh.
Notably missing from the leaderboard are many of the sport’s known big hitters. The second hole, nicknamed “Big Country,” proved to be a tough challenge. Its thin fairway moves slightly to the left, and players were missing to both sides all day. A ball must come to rest in the short stuff in order to qualify for the competition.
Dustin Johnson missed just to the left of the fairway. He took another shot that actually out-distanced Lahiri at 328, but only the first attempt counts.
How about big names like Rory McIlroy and Bubba Watson? Both missed.
McIlroy is making his first competitive appearance since the U.S. Open after an ankle injury playing soccer in July. Watson, who was at the center of a little bit of a controversy last year when he used a 3-iron at the competition, pulled out his driver this year.
What about 2014 runner-up Jason Day, Tiger Woods, Rickie Fowler, or Tony Finau? All missed.
Davis Love III, the 51-year-old, 2016 U.S. Ryder Cup captain, was in the second group of the day alongside Woods and picked up the early lead with a 305-yard drive. That held for about the first hour, before most of the eventual leaders came through in the next couple of hours. Love eventually ended in ninth place.
Justin Rose, who finished eighth with a 307-yard drive, said that the key isn’t just to hit the ball as hard as possible.
“You’re trying to make good contact,” Rose said. “I think sometimes when you over swing at it, the contact on the face gets a little iffy. … I actually hit it low in the heel, went down the left side. It was a bit of a lower flight than what I would typically see as my bomb.”
For Lahiri, who averages 294.3 yards per drive and 63.64 percent drive accuracy in 2015 PGA Tour events, it was the perfect combination of distance and accuracy.
If Tuesday’s competition was any indication, the second hole at Whistling Straits is going to be a tough one to navigate when play commences at the PGA Championship on Thursday.