Golf instructors often coach players to aim for a target in the distance rather than a spot in the fairway. Standing on the first tee at Southern Hills, the distant-target options come in the form of Tulsa’s skyline.
The first hole plays from a towering elevated tee, which gives players and fans a view of the city’s high-rises about 10 miles away. It not only makes for an inspiring and exciting first shot, but it can also serve as a guide to get into the short grass.
“I aim at the biggest, tallest building,” said Tom Lehman after his practice round Wednesday. That big, tall building is the Bank of Oklahoma Tower, part of a cluster of three buildings downtown. The skyline sits slightly to the left of the center of the fairway, but for a consistent fader off the tee, it’s a perfect alignment aid.
“If you really aim at one of the skyline deals, you’ll hit it too far left,” said Jim Ingram, a former club champion and member at Southern Hills. “But if you fade the ball off the tee, that’s what you want to do.”
That strategy rings true for John Rollins, as long as the wind doesn’t pick up this week.
“You may see a building that’s on a good line, and you might pick it to try to aim at it because you’re so elevated,” Rollins said. “Some guys see shots differently than others. For me, there are some buildings that are on a pretty good line depending on the wind. It helps you see your target a bit better.”
For others, like Lee Westwood, the skyline is a distraction best ignored.
“I noticed it in the practice rounds, but that’s the last time I’ll look at it,” he said. “I’ll aim for the fairway.”
Fred Funk, one of the straightest drivers on Tour, said the skyline isn’t close enough to make a difference in his alignment.
“It’s too far out, and the tee box is too high,” he said.
When he was told that Lehman, the 2006 Ryder Cup captain, aims for the bank tower every time, Funk said, “What’s he know?”