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Adventures in Leftyland

Every golfer has a hard-luck tale, but this one could befall only a lefty:

To avoid schlepping my bag on a cross-country business trip, I call ahead to see if the local golf course rents left-handed sticks. A southpaw never assumes.

I'm in luck. The set is even Callaway. Someone will dust them off for me, because "no one ever rents them."

Naturally, my plane lands late, the rental car computer has swallowed my reservation and construction has narrowed the freeway to one creeping lane. Tires squealing, I finally race up to the pro shop—ninety minutes after my tee time. The man at the desk has only an empathic look for me. Someone else has rented my clubs.

"But I reserved them," I protest.

"True, but you were late and someone else asked for them and, well, we've only got one lefty set."

"But no one ever rents them—remember?"

Out comes the manager, who chooses to emphasize the cosmic randomness of the situation. "I don't rent them once in six months, and then two people ask for them in one day," he says. "It's weird."

Not really; just another day in Leftyland. At least we who play from "the wrong side" can now brag about one of our own winning a major in this lifetime (no more waiting for Phil): Thank you, Mr. Weir. Already this season, two lefties have won tournaments (Weir and Mickelson) and a third, Steve Flesch, is currently seventeenth on the PGA Tour money list. It looks like this is going to be another banner year for southpaws.

Really, it's a great time to be a lefty. Here's are some other reasons:

Lefties stay out of trouble in pro shops. Lord knows how deep in debt I would be if 90 percent of the clubs in pro shops were angled my way, instead of the other way around. Still, the urge to pull plastic is powerful. This is why my hat rack has disappeared under a flock of logo caps.

No one steals your clubs. The year I took up golf, before I caught on to laying my wedges across the pulled flagstick, I left several of them behind on greens. Brand new Titleist Vokeys. Since no one had any use for them, I got every one back.

Playing lefty increases your identification with all oppressed minorities. Golf books and magazines are blatantly handist. Hit against a strong right side. Left hand low. Swing from three o'clock to nine o'clock?Lefties swing from nine to three—much more civilized hours.

Would it be such an imposition if all golf publications, starting with this one, substituted "back foot" and "front foot" for, respectively, "right foot" and "left foot"?

Portsiders are in a better position to absorb what the instructor is showing them, courtesy of the mirror-image effect. On the practice tee, if your teacher is a righty—I have never met one who isn't—and you are a lefty, you will face one another as you each hit balls onto the range. Watching him will be like looking into a mirror. This is better than Be the Ball. This is Be the Pro.

Lefties get many opportunities to be gracious and forgiving, giving them a moral advantage. Say you're in a cart and the other golfer, whom you've just met, is driving. Odds are that for the first few holes, not counting tee shots, he will park the cart just to the right of your ball. When you very nicely point out that the cart is resting exactly where you need to take your stance, he will apologize profusely and back up. Don't waste this strategic opportunity!

You have a built-in, smart-sounding excuse if you slice your drive OB. Just say, "Like most courses, this one is tough on lefties: It's set up to forgive a right-hander's slice." In fact, hazards and doglegs and landing areas tend to even out over eighteen holes, but you don't have to admit it.

You can root for Weir even though he's Canadian, and you feel special sympathy for Mickelson. However, it should be noted that both Weir and Mickelson—and for that matter, Bob Charles, the only lefty to win a British Open—are actually right-handers playing from what Charles diplomatically calls "the other side."

Ben Hogan and Len Mattiace, Weir's victim in last year's Masters playoff, were natural lefties who played righty because that was the only equipment available to them. I consider them "closet" lefties. Charles propounds the theory that right-handed people should play lefty to allow their stronger side to pull through the ball. In which case, I—a "real" lefty—should turn around.

Being a lefty makes you resourceful. At the course near my meeting, after I walk around a good bit, inwardly venting, I go back into the pro shop and say, "Maybe you've got one lefty club lying around?A wedge?A putter?"

The guy goes in the back and emerges two minutes later with an old putter. Sets up from either side. "It's a leftover," he says. "So to speak."

All that said, there is one important activity, requiring a repetitive motion, that every man, righty or lefty, performs with his right hand. Let's be honest about it. Some men do it as often as eighteen times a day. Yet by crank or by plunger, I have never known anyone to operate a ball washer left-handed.


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