How Rory McIlroy broke Southern Hills’ 665-yard monster hole with one swing

Rory McIlroy's driver was on fire at Southern Hills on Thursday at the PGA Championship, and he proved it on the fearsome fifth hole.

TULSA, Okla. — On Southern Hills, players hit the shots the course tells you to.

Unless you’re Rory McIlroy.

Ordinarily, Southern Hills’ par-5 5th hole is the epitome of the take-what-you’re-given philosophy. The 665-yard behemoth is the longest hole on property and plays as the No. 1 handicap hole for members. It’s a dogleg left with two bunkers right, one bunker left and a downhill slope feeding into the fairway past them.

The hole with designed with one obvious intention: Aim at the bunkers on the right and hit a draw. Execute, and your ball will trundle down the fairway. The hole becomes a long two-shotter. Don’t, and you’ll need to get home in three.


But when you’re Rory McIlroy, averaging 373 yards and feeling sharp, you get to make your own rules.

When he arrived on the 5th hole on Thursday, during his first round, he aimed on the left side of the tree left of the left bunker — almost to the driving range — and hit a high, hard push-cut. The ball launched into the sky, and when it finally came back to earth more than seven seconds later, it was 369 yards down the middle of the fairway. With one swing, Rory had gained almost a third of a shot on the field. He hit an iron into the greenside bunker, and walked away with his sixth birdie of the day.

“The game is played very differently now,” Tiger Woods, who played with Rory McIlroy on Thursday, said. “It’s much more aggressive.”

Playing the hole as a mirror image of itself may have been the product of Rory’s power, but wasn’t always the plan. It was a recent development, brought about by a variety of factors.

The first to do with his golf swing. Rory works the ball both ways, but says he feels his best when he’s trying to hit a fade. The ball usually stays pretty straight, he says, but in feeling a fade, he keeps his body moving and prevents his hands from flipping — and bringing double-crosses into play.

Luke Kerr-Dineen

“I’m a little more comfortable hitting the driver left-to-right at the minute,” he says. “I feel like my body works a little better; I can be more aggressive with my body. The body doesn’t stop and arms go. Some of those right-to-left winds today off the tee it was nice because I could just aim the driver up the middle of the fairway, hit like a nice hold against the wind.”

Perhaps it was a moment Wednesday on the same hole that spurred Rory to hit fades. On Wednesday, in his final practice round before the event, Rory tried hitting a draw as the designer intended — and it didn’t go well.

“I snap hooked one on to the driving range yesterday,” he said. “So at least I knew I wasn’t going to do that hitting a fade.”

The wind blowing steadily left to right solidified that decision. A fade it’ll be, and on Thursday, it brought Southern Hills’ fearsome fifth hole to its knees.

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