5 of Golf’s Greatest Left Handers
In celebration of today’s 22nd annual International Left-handers Day, as well as the millions of “lefties” around the world – roughly 10 percent of the global population – we are taking a moment to reflect on the greatest left-handed golfers of all time.
From legends such as Bob Charles to current superstars like Bubba Watson, left-handers have undoubtedly left their marks on the game of golf, especially throughout the last half century. And, as evidenced by the fact that lefties have won major championships four out of the last five years, the future of golf is actually looking brighter for left-handers now than it ever has before.
Although he is naturally right-handed, Phil Mickelson has set the standard by which all future left-handed professional golfers are measured. While enjoying one of the most consistent and successful careers in golf history, Phil has captured 42 PGA Tour victories, played for every Presidents and Ryder Cup team since 1994, and earned over $74 million in PGA Tour prize money.
But his most noteworthy achievements remain the five major championships he has claimed since 2004, the year in which he rolled in an 18-foot putt on the 72nd hole of The Masters to defeat Ernie Els by one shot and forever detach himself from a title he had long been associated with – “the best player to have never won a major.” Phil is also a World Golf Hall of Famer, joining Bob Charles as the hall’s only professional golfer to have played left-handed.
For years, Bubba Watson was regarded as an underachiever, leading golf analysts to scratch their heads, wondering when the immensely talented lefty would break through and show his full potential. That all changed in 2010, when he defeated Corey Pavin and Scott Verplank in a sudden-death playoff at the Travelers Championship, a victory he memorably dedicated to his father, who was battling cancer at the time.
Since then, he has become comfortable with his status as one of today’s best golfers, overcoming a playoff loss at the 2010 PGA Championship to win another five PGA Tour events, including two Masters Tournaments. Never afraid to be himself, he is not only known for wearing his emotions on his sleeve, but for also participating in the PGA Tour’s “Golf Boys” band, which also features Ben Crane, Hunter Mahan, and Rickie Fowler.
A Canadian sports hero, Mike Weir made history in 2003 when he became only the second left-handed golfer to win a major championship – The Masters. But this historic moment almost never occurred. Back when Mike was a teenager, he had been advised to play as a right-hander instead. Prior to switching, he wrote a letter to Jack Nicklaus, asking for his opinion. Jack soon responded, suggesting he should remain a “lefty,” as long as he was comfortable with his form.
Luckily, Mike listened to the Golden Bear’s advice and ultimately won eight PGA Tour titles, tying George Knudson for the most wins in Tour history by a Canadian. Although he has not won a PGA Tour tournament since 2007, due to elbow injuries, Mike appears to be on the comeback trail. Back in May, he finished runner-up at the HP Byron Nelson Championship, his best tournament showing in five years.
The trendsetter for all left-handers to come, Bob Charles was the first left-handed golfer to win a PGA Tour tournament (the 1963 Houston Classic) and a major championship (the 1963 Open Championship). The added pressure of being an Open champion did not distract him either, as he continued to win golf tournaments throughout the world afterwards. In all, he captured over 60 professional titles, including six on the PGA Tour, four on the European Tour, and 23 on the Champions Tour.
His longevity is particularly remarkable. Just seven years ago, he made the cut at the European Tour’s Michael Hill New Zealand Open, finishing in a tie for 23rd place after shooting a 68 during the second round, three strokes lower than his age. For his lifelong golfing achievements, Bob is also regarded as a sporting legend in his native New Zealand. In fact, he was the only New Zealander to have ever won a major until 2005, when Michael Campbell captured the U.S. Open.
Even though nearly 40 years have passed since her victory at the Bill Branch LPGA Classic, Bonnie Bryant remains the only LPGA Tour member to have won a tournament while playing left-handed. Originally a fast-pitch softball player, Bonnie did not take up the game of golf until she was 20 years old. But that didn’t deter her from joining the LPGA Tour, and maintaining a successful professional golf career.
Five years after her three-shot victory, she nearly won a second tournament – the 1979 Coca-Cola Classic – but lost in a sudden-death playoff to Nancy Lopez, who was arguably playing the best golf of her life at the time. Despite never winning another tournament, her record as the LPGA’s greatest left-hander does not appear to be in jeopardy anytime soon. After all, there are currently no LPGA Tour golfers who play left-handed.
Steve Flesch – Four-time PGA Tour winner and 1998 PGA Tour Rookie of the Year
Russ Cochran – 1991 Centel Western Open champion and winner of five Champions Tour tournaments
Ted Potter, Jr. – 2012 Greenbrier Classic champion and winner of two Web.com Tour tournaments
Eric Axley – 2006 Valero Texas Open champion and winner of one Web.com Tour tournament
Greg Chalmers – Winner of four PGA Tour of Australasia tournaments and two Web.com tournaments, as well as the 2011 PGA Tour of Australasia Order of Merit
Nick O’Hern – 2006 PGA Tour of Australasia Order of Merit winner, as well as a two-time champion on the tour
Featured image courtesy of Golf Digest