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Southpaws often left to scramble

Getting good equipment is just one problem vexing left-handed players, three of whom are contending in the Genuity Championship.

By BOB HARIG

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 3, 2001


MIAMI -- Some smart aleck always has a comment, one they've undoubtedly heard hundreds of times in the past. It could be directed at Mike Weir or Greg Chalmers or Steve Flesch, and they go along with the gag. Then they step up to the "wrong" side of the ball and smack it down the fairway.

Being a left-handed golfer is no longer as lonely as it used to be, but it still is quite rare, especially among pros.

Phil Mickelson is the most prominent left-hander, and with 18 PGA Tour victories, the oddity of being a southpaw is often overlooked. Before Mickelson came along, the most prominent lefty, and only one to win a major championship, was Bob Charles, who won the 1963 British Open and has had a successful Senior PGA Tour career.

But lefties have some challenges.

Three of them are in contention after two rounds of the Genuity Championship at the Doral Resort, which isn't bad when you consider there are six on tour, and only four entered in the tournament. Russ Cochran also is in the field and is 10 shots back. Mickelson is not here, nor is Kevin Wentworth.

Weir added 70 on Friday to his first-round 62 to tie Hal Sutton for second place, two shots behind leader Stewart Cink (66-130). Chalmers shot 66 to tie for fourth, three out of the lead. And Flesch added 72 to his opening 65.

"I think this is the most you'll see out here for a while," Flesch said. "There are so many great players, it's so deep, and I don't see a lot of lefties coming up in junior golf. It's a right-handed world."

Flesch, a native of Kentucky, actually started playing golf right-handed, but switched when he was young because he swung a baseball bat left-handed and it felt natural.

Weir, a Canadian, began playing golf left-handed because that was how he swung a hockey stick. Knowing how odd it was, however, he wrote to Jack Nicklaus as a youngster for counsel. Nicklaus told him not to change. And Weir is glad he didn't. After knocking around in minor leagues for several years, he won in each of the past two seasons, earning more than $2.5-million in 2000. Chalmers is from Australia and has two international victories. Last year he finished 41st on the PGA Tour money list.

"I grew up admiring (Greg) Norman and Nicklaus so I did not really pick a left-hander (to emulate) as such," Chalmers said. "When I was younger, Phil was starting to dominate the game.

"But yes, it is tricky. You do not have as many options for equipment. You only have to walk on the range to see that is fairly obvious. There are bags and bags of right-handed clubs. I have to call someone over to make one for us. It is frustrating sometimes. There are options for other people that you do not have.

"I am waiting for a driver at the moment in 91/2 degrees loft that they don't make. They make it 81/2 degrees. Just little things like that where you tear your hair out. I have been doing it since Day 1."

That is why the lefties bond.

"I will go to Flesch's bag, see what he has, irons or woods, and he will do the same to me," Weir said. "That is the one factor that is still difficult out here, for a left-hander anywhere. When something comes out for a left-hander, it comes out later. So if you see something new, it is a neat novelty, you want to try it out."

Said Flesch: "They make the right-handed version first, then they decide if they will make it lefty, because there is not a market for it, especially a high-end club that is built for better ball-strikers. It has less spin, high launch. The general public cannot hit clubs like that. Just to make them ... that is a lot to dedicate to a club which only one guy might use."

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