Left-handed compliment: Why southpaws thrive at Augusta

By Brandel ChambleeApril 2, 2015, 12:00 pm

From the beginning of the Masters in 1934 until 2002, every winner had one thing in common. They played right-handed. In the 12 Masters since, southpaws have won six times, including two wins by this year’s defending champion, Bubba Watson. 

Given how few left-handed golfers have played in the year’s first major, this 50 percent success rate touches the limits of probability. It could be that the improvements in equipment offered to these formerly “left out” golfers have lifted them to a point of equality, but that doesn’t explain why lefties have done so comparatively poorly in the other majors? Bob Charles (1963 British Open) and Phil Mickelson (2005 PGA, 2013 British Open) are the only southpaws who have won a major other than the Masters.

In 2003 professional golf was turned on its proverbial ear by the introduction of two new hard-core balls – Titleist’s Pro V1 and Pro V1x. Together they were responsible for a cataclysmic gain in distance, the likes of which hadn’t been seen since rubber-core balls made “gutties” obsolete about 100 years ago and, in the opinion of many observers of the day, ruined the game.

In 2002 Mickelson averaged 288 yards off the tee. That jumped to 306 in 2003. Similarly, Ernie Els went from 281 yards to 303, and Vijay Singh from 285 to 302. In 2002, just 18 players averaged 290 yards or longer. One year later, 64 did. The leader in driving distance in 2002 averaged 306.8 yards. In 2003 the number was a record 321.4.

With this gain in distance came a corresponding decrease in accuracy. Longer tee shots had wider dispersion patterns, of course. But these new balls also spun less, so they were more difficult to curve. That effectively halved the size of the fairway for Tour pros. Because they couldn't count on working the ball from the edge of the fairway back to the center, they had to aim there.

In theory, these balls were just as hard to draw as they were to fade, the difference being a clubface that is open (fade) or closed (draw) relative to the path of the swing. In practice, however, a draw is harder to hit because it demands more patience with the lower body, while a fade can be achieved by clearing one’s hips as fast as possible.

Since 2003, when solid-core balls began to take over the pro tours, it has been much harder to hit a draw than a fade. This peculiarity plays right into the game of left-handed golfers when they get to Augusta National, where key tee shots at Nos. 2, 5, 9, 10 and 13 scream for a right-to-left shot, which is much easier accomplished by a left-handed golfer.

Phil Mickelson first played in the Masters in 1991 and would play 11 times before winning in 2004. That was the first of his three wins there in a seven-year span.

Outside of the Masters, Bubba Watson has played in 22 majors and has just two top-10 finishes, but he has two wins in just eight trips to Augusta.

Mike Weir had played three times in the year’s first major, with his best finish a tie for 24th place. But in 2003 he put the new version of the solid-core ball in play and became the first left-hander to win the Masters. In fact, up until that year he had played in 15 majors and had finished as high as 10th only once; but in 2003, besides his win at Augusta, he finished third at the U.S. Open and seventh at the PGA Championship.

Steve Flesch, another left-hander, has played in 33 major championships and his lone top-five finish came in the 2008 Masters.

Contrast this Magnolia Lane success with that of Bob Charles, who in 1963 became the first lefty to win a major when he defeated Phil Rogers in a playoff at the Open Championship. Charles would twice finish third in the U.S. Open and had a runner-up finish in the PGA Championship, but in more than a dozen trips to Augusta National he never finished better than 15th despite being one of the best putters of all time. Charles, despite being one of the best players of his era, struggled at Augusta, mostly for his lack of great length, but he played when the equipment allowed all players to work the ball in both directions.

Once again as the Masters draws near, a left-hander, Watson, is the defending champion. For those who think the above argument has gone too far, well, perhaps you are right. Perhaps it’s more important that these players who stand on the “wrong side of the ball” are finally as well equipped as their right-handed rivals. But tell me this: When was the last time you saw a right-handed player hit a right-to-left tee shot at No. 13 that covered the distance and found the angle to the pin that Bubba’s did last year on Sunday?


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Ortiz takes Web.com Tour clubhouse lead in Bahamas

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:19 am

Former Web.com Tour Player of the Year Carlos Ortiz shot a bogey-free, 4-under-par 68 Monday to take the clubhouse lead in The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic at Sandals Emerald Bay.

Four other players - Lee McCoy, Brandon Matthews, Sung Jae Im and Mark Anderson - were still on the course and tied with Ortiz at 6-under 210 when third-round play was suspended by darkness at 5:32 p.m. local time. It is scheduled to resume at 7:15 a.m. Tuesday.

Ortiz, a 26-year-old from Guadalajara, Mexico, is in search of his fourth Web.com Tour victory. In 2014, the former University of North Texas standout earned a three-win promotion on his way to being voted Web.com Tour Player of the Year.

McCoy, a 23-year-old from Dunedin, Fla., is looking to become the first player to earn medalist honors at Q-School and then win the opening event of the season.

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Randall's Rant: Can we please have some rivalries?

By Randall MellJanuary 16, 2018, 12:00 am

Memo to the golf gods:

If you haven’t finalized the fates of today’s stars for the new year, could we get you to deliver what the game has lacked for so long?

Can we get a real, honest-to-goodness rivalry?

It’s been more than two decades since the sport has been witness to one.

With world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and former world No. 1 Rory McIlroy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship this week, an early-season showdown would percolate hope that this year might be all about rivalries.

It seems as if the stars are finally aligned to make up for our long drought of rivalries, of the recurring clashes you have so sparingly granted through the game’s history.

We’re blessed in a new era of plenty, with so many young stars blossoming, and with Tiger Woods offering hope he may be poised for a comeback. With Johnson, McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Brooks Koepka and Rickie Fowler among today’s dynamic cast, the possibility these titans will time their runs together on the back nine of Sundays in majors excites.

We haven’t seen a real rivalry since Greg Norman and Nick Faldo sparred in the late '80s and early '90s.

Woods vs. Phil Mickelson didn’t really count. While Lefty will be remembered for carving out a Hall of Fame career in the Tiger era, with 33 victories, 16 of them with Tiger in the field, five of them major championships, we get that Tiger had no rival, not in the most historic sense.

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Phil never reached No. 1, was never named PGA Tour Player of the Year, never won a money title and never dueled with Woods on Sunday on the back nine of a major with the title on the line.  Still, it doesn’t diminish his standing as the best player not named Tiger Woods over the last 20 years. It’s a feat so noteworthy it makes him one of the game’s all-time greats.

We’ve been waiting for an honest-to-goodness rivalry since Faldo and Norman took turns ruling at world No. 1 and dueling in big events, including the back nine of multiple majors. 

In the '70s, we had Nicklaus-Watson. In the '60s, it was Nicklaus-Palmer. In the '40s and '50s, it was Hogan, Snead and Nelson in a triumvirate mix, and in the '20s and '30s we had Hagen and Sarazen.

While dominance is the magic ingredient that can break a sport out of its niche, a dynamic rivalry is the next best elixir.

Dustin Johnson looks capable of dominating today’s game, but there’s so much proven major championship talent on his heels. It’s hard to imagine him consistently fending off all these challengers, but it’s the fending that would captivate us.

Johnson vs. McIlroy would be a fireworks show. So would Johnson vs. Thomas, or Thomas vs. Day or McIlroy vs. Rahm or Fowler vs. Koepka ... or any of those combinations.

Spieth is a wild card that intrigues.

While he’s not a short hitter, he isn’t the power player these other guys are, but his iron game, short game, putter and moxie combine to make him the most compelling challenger of all. His resolve, resilience and resourcefulness in the final round of his British Open victory at Royal Birkdale make him the most interesting amalgam of skill since Lee Trevino.

Woods vs. any of them? Well, if we get that, we promise never to ask for anything more.

So, if that cosmic calendar up there isn’t filled, how about it? How about a year of rivalries to remember?

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McIlroy: 2018 may be my busiest season ever

By Will GrayJanuary 15, 2018, 6:28 pm

With his return to competition just days away, Rory McIlroy believes that the 2018 season may be the most action packed of his pro career.

The 28-year-old has not teed it up since the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in early October, a hiatus he will end at this week's Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. It will be the start of a busy spring for the Ulsterman, who will also play next week in Dubai before a run of six PGA Tour events leading up to the Masters.

Speaking to the U.K.'s Telegraph, McIlroy confirmed that he will also make a return trip to the British Masters in October and plans to remain busy over the next 12 months.

"I might play more times this year than any before. I played 28 times in 2008 and I'm on track to beat that," McIlroy said. "I could get to 30 (events), depending on where I'm placed in the Race to Dubai. But I'll see."

McIlroy's ambitious plan comes in the wake of a frustrating 2017 campaign, when he injured his ribs in his first start and twice missed chunks of time in an effort to recover. He failed to win a worldwide event and finished the year ranked outside the top 10, both of which had not happened since 2008.

But having had more than three months to get his body and swing in shape, McIlroy is optimistic heading into the first of what he hopes will be eight starts in the 12 weeks before he drives down Magnolia Lane.

"I've worked hard on my short game and I'm probably feeling better with the putter than I ever have," McIlroy said. "I've had a lot of time to concentrate on everything and it all feels very good and a long way down the road."

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What's in the Bag: Sony Open winner Kizzire

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 15, 2018, 6:05 pm

Patton Kizzire earned his second PGA Tour victory by winning a six-hole playoff at the Sony Open in Hawaii. Take a look inside his bag.

Driver: Titleist 917D3 (10.5 degrees), with Fujikura Atmos Black 6 X shaft

Fairway Wood: Titleist 917F2 (16.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Blue 95 TX shaft

Hybrid: Titleist 913H (19 degrees), with UST Mamiya AXIV Core 100 Hybrid shaft

Irons: Titleist 718 T-MB (4), 718 CB (5-6), 718 MB (7-9), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts

Wedges: Titleist SM7 prototype (47, 52, 56, 60 degrees), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts

Putter: Scotty Cameron GoLo Tour prototype

Ball: Titleist Pro V1x