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Opinion & Analysis

Starting from Scratch (Episode 1): GolfWRX Editor switches to lefty

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As a right-handed Division I (Rutgers University) golfer, I underwent spine surgery at 20-years old, which effected the lower right portion of my back. Eight years later, I’m a trending-up-2-handicap who deals with back spasms after nearly every round of golf or practice session, and a lingering left wrist injury — neither of which are very good for a right-handed golfer. Extremely frustrated with golf and my body, I’m officially announcing my retirement as a right-handed golfer. BUT, I’m not retiring from the sport I love.

Going forward, I will be switching to playing golf as a left-hander. The left-handed swing puts significantly less pressure on the lower right side of my back and my left wrist. Therefore, I’ll be able to continue playing golf by switching sides, and get back the passion to practice and improve.

The problem? I’ve never played golf lefty and I’m not ambidextrous. I write, throw, bat, swing, play pool, play darts, everything as a righty. For 28 years, I’ve played golf righty.

As your fearless GolfWRX Editor, I’ll be documenting the entire process through written articles, photos, podcast updates, video and social media posts (@tg2wrx on Instagram). I’ll explain what it’s like to start the game as a beginning golfer, and the process I take to improve. I’ll document lessons, club fittings, performance assessments, rounds of golf, and practice sessions on my quest. Hopefully, I’ll be writing the blueprint for how to go from a terrible golfer to a nineties shooter. Hopefully.

My goal is to break 100 (on a regulation golf course from the “white” tees) before Labor Day. My co-host on Two Guys Talking Golf has bet against me for a publicly undisclosed sum, and I’ve also been taking many side bets, as well. My mission for the summer is to prove everyone wrong.

Watch Episode 1 of the series to see my first swings as a lefty.

Starting from Scratch: Episode 1

 

Week 1 and 2 highlights

  • Whiffed once while attempting to hit a 6-iron. I’m just happy it only happened once.
  • Went to a big box store to buy used golf clubs. Wow, buying equipment as a lefty is just as difficult as left-handers have been telling righties their entire lives. I bought a 64-degree SureOut wedge — I need the most forgiveness I can get
  • Purchased the rest of my set online for less than $500! We will be posting a “What’s in the bag” video in the coming weeks. Spoiler alert: I got some VERY forgiving stuff.
  • Watched a video from Shawn Clement — who is scratch as both a lefty and a righty — saying right-hand dominant golfers playing lefty should feel the club pulling with their right arm. It feels like a backhand stroke in tennis, and I’m thinking this will be a good swing thought moving forward
  • Grinded at the short game area almost every night until the rest of my clubs came in. Short game is feeling really good. Just working on hitting down on the golf ball and making consistent contact near the center of the face.
  • One night after work, I went to the short game area at my local course, and realized no one was playing. Although I didn’t feel ready to take my game to the course, I decided to play 9 holes. And I shot… 50!! (Par 35; 2,810 yards.) Very encouraging.
  • Check out @tg2wrx for a ridiculous flop shot I hit over the trees during my first round as a lefty
  • Shot 44 on a mini golf course putting lefty… yikes. Gotta reduce those three putts.

Thoughts from a left-hander

Overall, the most work is going to be getting mid-to-long irons in the air, and reducing slices/top/shanks off the tee. If I can simply get the ball in the air and hit it somewhere around the center of the face, I believe I can plot my way around a golf course to break 100. Bunker play is a huge concern still, so I’ll want to avoid bunkers at all costs. Other than that, I need to practice more. More range balls, more chip shots, more pitch shots and more putts. I need to continue getting comfortable hitting golf balls from the “wrong” side.

Tune in next time to see my WITB and how I’m faring as a south paw.

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He played on the Hawaii Pacific University Men's Golf team and earned a Masters degree in Communications. He also played college golf at Rutgers University, where he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism.

16 Comments

16 Comments

  1. Soonerslim

    May 26, 2018 at 10:50 am

    I have played golf right-handed for over 40 years. I’m naturually left-handed, throw, bat, write, kick, etc as lefty. Learned golf right-handed because of dad’s clubs. I now have right lower back pain issues, left knee miniscus issues, CMC issues in my left hand, etc. I have considered trying to start playing golf left-handed to alleviate some of the strain on this painful issues. Has anyone else that is naturally left handed tried to switch from right to left? If so, how did it work out?

  2. Cliff Hartman

    May 25, 2018 at 9:58 am

    I know a guy who is Director of Golf at a Golf Digest top 100 club. He was an all conference college player, played mini tours for a while, even shot a 59 once at the club he works at. His right side of his back started bothering him so much he tried playing lefty and found out it did not hurt his back. After doing this for the last 3 years he is down to an 7 handicap and loves pursuing this new way of playing golf. Good luck to you!!

  3. Mark

    May 21, 2018 at 10:07 am

    I am going to be a touch pedantic here and am so doing because the author of this article writes for a living. This statement -“I’m officially announcing my retirement as a right-handed golfer” – is incorrect; unless of course he was employed and remunerated for being a right-handed golfer. If he was not, then all he has done is to give up playing right handed.

  4. Par3

    May 20, 2018 at 3:04 pm

    Wouldn’t a modified approach to your right hand swing make more sense? Getting help for, addressing your injuries with therapy or swing changes. Who’s to say swinging lefty will alleviate your injuries? A combination of swing change, equipment modification and possibly dialing back swing speed would seem more effective than starting over as a lefty.

  5. Tucsonsean

    May 20, 2018 at 11:27 am

    If nothing else, it’ll give you empathy for those of us who whiff, shank, thin, and chunk our way around the course (for years), despite our using our dominant hand.

  6. Evan

    May 20, 2018 at 8:21 am

    if your goal is to reduce injury and still enjoy the game you love, their is no reason you couldn’t still putt righty. can’t imagine that would give you injury issues

    • Tocino

      May 21, 2018 at 7:37 pm

      I was going to say, you could probably still putt right-handed based off of the injuries you stated in your article. At any rate, good luck! Looking forward to see your progress

  7. Devilsadvocate

    May 20, 2018 at 6:21 am

    The name of this series is confusing… I know what you mean by scratch but that’s already a different term when it comes to golf… starting over or back to basics would make more sense… other than that very cool

  8. Bob

    May 20, 2018 at 4:22 am

    Gets custom fitted for PXG and then switches to lefty.. Hmmmm….

  9. Paul

    May 19, 2018 at 9:33 pm

    Same problems here with pain as a lefty. I just play less, but I stash a right handed club in the bag for practice.

  10. rymail00

    May 19, 2018 at 6:55 pm

    Its definitely doable. A guy at our course had the shanks so bad or and injury cant remember the the reason, anyways he switched from right (as a low single digit handicap), and ended up switching to lefty maybe 5 or so years ago and is now a mid-high single digit handicap playing lefty.
    Its definitely doable…

  11. George

    May 19, 2018 at 3:25 pm

    Does right handed putting put stress on your back too? Then why don’t you keep putting the way you did for 28years. There‘s no rule forbidding a lefty to putt righty.

    • Matt

      May 19, 2018 at 7:22 pm

      I was wondering the same thing. If putting feels good for the back and wrist no reason to change.

  12. PapaJohick

    May 19, 2018 at 1:48 pm

    hey you’ve got the twirl down perfect!!!

  13. SK

    May 19, 2018 at 1:29 pm

    So you believe you can convert to a left handed golf swing by grabbing a lefty club and swinging with abandon?!! Can you hit a baseball left handed? Can you hit a tennis racket left handed? Perhaps you should abandon the lefty golf clubs and develop a basic lefty rotatory swing that your body can accommodate and engram more easily. 😎

  14. Jim Thomas

    May 19, 2018 at 1:01 pm

    As a 5 handicap I have been fighting some early extension for years. I have actually considered going lefty to start from scratch with no ingrained muscle memory moves and much more knowledge of the golf swing then I had when I started 20 years ago as a righty. I have a lefty 7 iron and try to remember if the first time I swung a golf club righty if it feels as awkward as it does to swing lefty. Good luck I will be following!

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Opinion & Analysis

What’s going on with the decline in putting on the PGA Tour?

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Watching the PGA Tour recently, I was struck by Frank Nobilo commenting on how professionals and their instructors work down to the smallest detail, a reflection on the intense competition on the PGA Tour and the fact that to be successful you cannot ignore anything. He made this comment with his thumb and forefinger barely not touching for emphasis.

That being the case, the numbers below should cause major introspection by every player and their coach. They are self-explanatory and have been verified by a third party expert who deals in putting data.

All figures are Shotlink data from the PGA Tour. To preclude undue influence by an anomaly years 2003-5 are averaged as are 2016-18

Average make percentage from 5 distances, 2003-2005 combined

  • 6 FEET: 71.98 percent
  • 8 FEET: 55.01 percent
  • 10 FEET: 43.26 percent
  • 15-20 FEET: 19.37 percent
  • 25 FEET AND BEYOND: 5.96 percent

Average make percentage from the same 5 distances, 2015-2018

  • 6 FEET: 70.43 percent
  • 8 FEET: 53.54 percent
  • 10 FEET: 41.39 percent
  • 15-20 FEET: 18.80 percent
  • 25 FEET AND BEYOND: 5.33 percent

Percent decrease 

  • 6 FEET: 1.55 percent
  • 8 FEET: 1.67 percent
  • 10 FEET: 1.87 percent
  • 15-20 FEET: .57 percent
  • 25 FEET AND BEYOND: .83 percent

One comment, green conditions have been vetted to the point where they are not considered a culprit. Faster, yes, but pristine surfaces, and very consistent week to week. There are some outliers like the U.S. Open greens but they are included in the data shown and caused no significant spike for that week.

Further, on the subject of greens, today’s professional has booklets showing green patterns, high MOI putter heads, instruction from putting specialists, and caddies, expert green readers in their own right. Bottom line: if anything the greens help not hurt.

So your turn. Look at the data. Appoint yourself all-powerful guru to improve putting data. What would your plan, be? Oh and this little tidbit so you can earn a huge consulting fee: We took six players, three on either side of the halfway point, your solution resulted in a one-shot per TOURNAMENT improvement. Average INCREASE in earnings for the season: a smidge over $500K!

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Opinion & Analysis

A merciful new local rule

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This April, within a list of 2019 Rules Clarifications, the USGA and R&A quietly authorized a new Local Rule that you can expect to see enacted everywhere from the U.S. Open Championship to, if you’re lucky, your own club championship.  

New Local Rule E-12 provides some protection from an unintended consequence of Rule 14.3c, which requires that your ball come to rest in the relief area for the drop you’re taking. When I first read about this option, I confess that I was a bit skeptical. But now that I’ve experienced the Local Rule in action, its value has become very clear.  

My initial skepticism came from the fact that I like it that every time, we drop we now must drop in a relief area. I also like the simplicity of requiring the ball to come to rest in that relief area — no more awkward need to figure out if your ball stayed within two club lengths of the point where your drop first struck the course, as used to be the case.  So right from the start, I was very comfortable with the new rules in this regard. But in some cases, particularly for those who haven’t carefully studied the revised rules, this simple approach has caused problems. 

The freedom this new Local Rule provides applies exclusively to back-on-the-line relief drops, such as you might make from penalty areas or for unplayable balls. It’s a bit complicated, but let me take you through how it helps. We’ll use yellow-staked penalty areas as an example. Last year, for back-on-the-line drops such as these, you’d identify the point where your ball last crossed the margin of the water hazard and draw an imaginary line from the flagstick through that point, select a nice place to drop anywhere you chose back along that line, and then let it drop. If you picked a point sufficiently back, and your ball didn’t hit anything prohibited, and it didn’t stop more than two club lengths from where you dropped it, you were good to go.  

This year, instead of dropping on that imaginary line, you drop in a relief area that surrounds that imaginary line. Just like before, you identify the edge of the penalty area where your ball last crossed, go back as far as you wish along an imaginary line from the flagstick through that point — but now you should identify a relief area around your selected drop location. To do so, you pick a point on the line, then define a relief area one club length from that point no closer to the hole. So you typically have a semicircle two club lengths in diameter in which to drop. If you drop a foot or two back from the front edge of the semicircle, there’s almost always no problem with the ball coming to rest outside the releif area and you’ll be ready to play.  But if you drop right on the front edge of your defined relief area, or if you didn’t bother to identify a point/relief area along the imaginary line before you dropped, and your ball bounces and comes to rest even the slightest bit forward — it’s now outside the relief area and subject to a two-stroke or loss of hole penalty for playing from the wrong place if you end up hitting the ball before correcting your mistake.

That might seem kind of harsh — you take a back-on-the-line drop like you did last year, it bounces and stops an inch forward, you hit it — and you get severely penalized.  If you had simply established the relief area an inch or two forward, things would have been perfectly legal! The 2019 rules, in their effort to simplify and make consistent the drop/relief procedure, created an unintended potential trap for players that weren’t careful enough managing their business. This seemed like it was going to be a big enough problem that the USGA and R&A decided to graciously do something about it:  Introduce Model Local Rule E-12.

When this Local Rule is adopted, a player is given some additional freedom. If he or she applies the relief area/drop principles correctly, there is, of course, still no problem.  But if he or she ends up with the ball somewhat outside the relief area, there still might be no penalty. As long as the ball originally struck the course within where the relief area should be, and as long as it didn’t come to rest more than one club length from where it first hit the course when dropped, you can still play it penalty-free (as long as it’s not nearer the hole than where the ball originally lay in the case of an unplayable ball drop, or nearer the hole than the edge of the penalty area where the ball last crossed for a penalty area drop).

While all that’s a bit complicated sounding, in practice it’s intuitive. And as an added bonus, it probably doesn’t matter if you don’t understand it or even know it’s in force — there are simply more occasions when you can blissfully, even ignorantly, play on penalty-free.

This new Local Rule provides another advantage as well. When it’s in effect, an opponent or ref (or a TV viewer) won’t have to concern themselves with whether or not the player making the drop actually followed the recommendation of first defining a relief area before making a back-on-the-line drop. If you’re at a distance, and you see a player taking a drop which bounces slightly forward, you can relax. You don’t have to wonder whether or not you should rush up and confirm that the ball didn’t squeak out of the player’s intended relief area in an effort to prevent the player from incurring a penalty.  One way or another, everything is more than likely just fine.

With all that in mind, maybe you’d like to see the specific wording of E-12:

“When taking Back-On-the-Line relief, there is no additional penalty if a player plays a ball that was dropped in the relief area required by the relevant Rule (Rule 16.1c(2), 17.1d(2), 19.2b or 19.3b) but came to rest outside the relief area, so long as the ball, when played, is within one club-length of where it first touched the ground when dropped.

“This exemption from penalty applies even if the ball is played from nearer the hole than the reference point (but not if played from nearer the hole than the spot of the original ball or the estimated point where the ball last crossed the edge of the penalty area).

“This Local Rule does not change the procedure for taking Back-On-the-Line relief under a relevant Rule. This means that the reference point and relief area are not changed by this Local Rule and that Rule 14.3c(2) can be applied by a player who drops a ball in the right way and it comes to rest outside the relief area, whether this occurs on the first or second drop.” 

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Podcasts

The 19th Hole (Ep 82): Shane Bacon | New Korn Ferry Tour

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Fox Sports host Shane Bacon recaps the 119th U.S.Open with host Michael Williams, Also features Jill Wiltfong of Korn Ferry and Tour President Alex Baldwin talking about the new naming rights deal.

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19th Hole

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