The left-swing of the golf party
Appeal Sports Writer
RENO – For the longest time, Bob Charles held the distinction as the only left-handed golfer on the PGA Tour.
Now, there are 10 left-handed golfers on the tour, three of which are entered in the Reno-Tahoe Open which begins Thursday at Montreux Golf & Country Club.
Greg Chalmers, who regained his PGA card this year, Eric Axley and the long-driving Bubba Watson will carry the torch for lefties this week. The other left-handers are Phil Mickelson, Russ Cochran, Steve Flesch, Nick O’ Hern, John Engler Jr., B.J. Staten and Mike Weir.
Chalmers and Watson do everything left-handed from swinging a golf club to writing their names, and both have always played left-handed.
“There’s more equipment available now,” Watson said. “Everybody, all the top names, are selling left-handed equipment now. That’s really what it is (in terms of increased interest).”
“It’s not like there were a barrel of left-handed golf clubs sitting at the back of the pro shop or at a store,” Chalmers said. “It was harder to find clubs.”
When you see a lefty on the golf course, you usually hear, “Hey, you’re swinging from the wrong side.”
Chalmers and Watson say they heard that all the time when they were junior golfers and even more smart-aleck type comments.
Of course, if you saw Watson hit a golf ball, your mouth would be open but no words would come out.
Watson punishes a golf ball like few can on the PGA Tour. He averaged 334 yards last year on the Nationwide Tour, and earned his PGA card by finishing 21st on the money list.
“I’ve always been long,” said Watson, who said he hit one 431 yards off the tee at a Nationwide Tour event last season. “You can’t teach length.”
Watson should be right at home on the lengthy Montreux course with its limited fairway rough.
“I played nine holes today,” Watson said. “I don’t know where all the trees came from. I didn’t really see them when I drove in. The course is in good shape. On a course as wide as this, putting will be the difference. You have to make birdies.”
The par-5s also will be a factor. Those might be holes where the long-hitting Watson could dominate.
Watson reached the 616-yard downhill par-5 in two shots. With length like that, he would have a big advantage over the rest of the field if he can consistently putt for eagle on the longer holes.
Watson has three top-10 finishes this year – fourth in the season-opening Sony event, a tie for third at the Chrysler Classic and he tied for sixth at the International. He is 88th on the money list, yet he isn’t happy with his overall performance.
“I don’t believe I’m having a good year,” said Watson, who admits to losing some focus with all the media attention he got earlier in the season. “I’ve got to get in the right frame of mind to play the game and do well.”
The Australian-born Chalmers was introduced to the game at age 13, a late start compared to many golfers in the United States, who are taught to swing a golf club only a few years after learning how to walk.
“My father was left-handed as well. He bought me a set of clubs when I was 13, and said if I didn’t use them he would,” Chalmers said. “I did, and here we are 20 years later.”
Chalmers played on the tour from 1999 to 2004, but fell out of the top 150 and lost his card after posting only two top-10 finishes in 2004. He earned it back by finishing 14th on the Nationwide money list in 2005, which included a win at the Albertsons Boise Open.
Chalmers is currently fighting to retain his tour card. He’s currently 198th on the money list, but tied for 32nd at the International and the B.C. Open, and he finished 34th at the John Deere Classic.
“I’ve played poorly so far,” said Chalmers. “I’ve changed coaches, which is a good thing. Sometimes, you just need to hear some different things.
“I’ve changed my set-up and things like that. There are plenty of different ways to have success in this game. I played pretty well in Denver (the International).”
Axley, who finished 16th on the Nationwide Tour last season, has two top-25 finishes thus far. He tied for 24th at the Chrysler Classic and the B.C.Open, and his currently 203 on the money list.
Axley closed the Nationwide season with a second-place finish, which helped him jump from 27 on the money list to 16.