Augusta National built for left-handed players
Southpaws have won six of the last 12 Masters Tournaments
April 08, 2015
By Mike McAllister , PGATOUR.COM
- Phil Mickelson has won three Green Jackets -- half of the lefties' total for the last 12 years.
AUGUSTA, Ga. – Brian Harman will win the Masters.
Never mind that Harman is making his first start at Augusta National or that he’s 93rd in the latest world rankings.
Never mind that he’s missed the cut in five of his last six events, or that he’s 110th in FedExCup points after 12 starts this season, having yet to post a top-10 finish. Never mind that he ranks 143rd on TOUR in driving distance or 153rd in greens in regulation.
Never mind that oddsmakers – if that’s what you’re into; we certainly don’t condone such things – have him listed at roughly the same odds you might get in seeing your best friend emerge from a phone booth wearing a red cape and having a huge “S” on his chest. First of all, there’s no such thing as Superman. Second of all, there’s no such thing as a phone booth. Not anymore.
Harman, however, possesses the secret weapon – the kryptonite, if you will -- to conquer Augusta National.
Of the last 12 Masters winners, six have done it playing left-handed. Three wins by Phil Mickelson. Two wins by Bubba Watson, including last year. And the 2003 win by Mike Weir, who still has all of Canada puffing its collective chest out with maple-leaf pride a dozen years later.
Four of the 97 golfers in the field enter this week’s first major swinging from a left side. Collectively, they’re batting .500 in the last dozen years. Want to predict a winner based on a trend? It’s difficult to overlook that one.
“I wish I could play the other way,” right-hander Martin Kaymer once lamented prior to playing the Masters.
The Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee doesn’t think it’s a coincidence that left-handers rule at Augusta National. “They have a tremendous advantage,” he said.
OK, so Harman may not be your first choice in predicting which lefty will continue the dominance this week.
Watson is the obvious top candidate, having shown that Augusta National is a perfect fit for his mercurial game. He’s won two of the last three Masters, and he’s in form, with a win and three other top 10s in his five starts this season.
Even the world’s top-ranked player is ready to cede the favorite’s role to the defending champ.
“Perfect game for this course,” Rory McIlroy said this week. “Been playing really well. Seems confident every time he tees it up. He’s been right up there his last few events. So if you’re looking at someone that will do well this week, I think Bubba is the main guy.”
Then Rory laughed. “Not trying to put any pressure on him or anything,” he smiled.
If not Watson, then Mickelson could be the left-hander to watch. Unlike Bubba, Phil hasn’t exactly flashed much form lately, although he did play well in the first two rounds at last week’s Shell Houston Open.
Still, with Mickelson, form rarely dictates results. He’s the quintessential flip-the-switch golfer, and at Augusta National, the turnaround can happen instantly.
“When he turns off Washington Road down Magnolia Lane, he may be Bruce Wayne,” Chamblee once said, “but by the end of it, he’s Batman. It almost doesn’t matter what form Phil Mickelson has when he comes into this place.
“It was designed for Phil Mickelson.”
In other words, Augusta National was designed for lefties, with several right-to-left holes that allow for a left-hander to hit a more favorable cut while the righties have to hit the harder draw.
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Mickelson immediately reeled off three tee shots that play to his strengths – at hole Nos. 9, 10 and 13 – “holes,” he said, “that hitting a cut makes it a lot easier.”
Noted Mickelson: “You can analyze it as much as you want, but I think the fact that the equipment has allowed fades to go longer (and) has allowed us to get to the bottom of the fairway, the bottom of the hill on 10 and get it out there far enough on (the par-5) 13 with a cut and still be able to reach it, where we’re able to control that a little bit better. But you’re talking about fractions of a stroke difference.”
Then there’s the tee shot at the par-3 12th, which Mickelson explained, “sits perfectly along a left-handed shot dispersion, short-left, long-right, so you aim at the middle of the green and you have a huge green to hit at.
“It’s opposite of a right-handed shot dispersion. You aim at the middle of the green, you pull it, it goes long left; you push it, it goes short right in the water. There’s holes like that that sit better for the left-handed players.”
On the front side, holes such as the par-5 second and the par-4 fifth – as well as the par-4 ninth – dogleg left. “It would be nice to cut the ball in there,” Kaymer said of the fifth, one of the key early scoring holes.
Mickelson argues there are other shots that benefit right-handers, such as the second shot at the eighth hole. Even so, it’s difficult for the left-handers to admit to an equal split of the advantages.
“Phil’s tried to hit cuts off of tees. Mike Weir has hit a few cuts,” Watson said. “For us, it sets up good for a cut, and that’s what you need around here, or a draw for a right-hander. For us, it sets up good for the shot shape we’re trying to hit.”
The right-handers know it. Luke Donald once told the New York Times that “there are an awful lot of holes that look more inviting if you stand over the ball as a left-hander. The golf course may have always demanded a certain right-to-left ball flight for the right-handed player, but considering where they’ve moved the tees, it’s exaggerated. It’s a harder shot for a right-hander.”
Being able to land their tee shots and approaches in favorable positions certainly provide more scoring opportunities.
Rickie Fowler has spent lots of time hanging out with Mickelson at Augusta National, hoping to gleam any information he can from his unofficial mentor. Just like when you look in a mirror, though, you have to understand the flip-flopped perspective.
It’s not always easy for a righty to see the course from a lefty’s viewpoint.
“Obviously, with him being lefty and me being righty, it’s a little different,” Fowler said. “Some of the pitch shots are easier in positions where he is, versus me playing it as a righty. “
So if Augusta National was so favorable for lefties, why did it take nearly 70 years for Weir to become the first of his kind to win the Masters?
Numbers, of course. There just aren’t that many left-handed pros, and even fewer of them have the game good enough to compete at majors. Weir was just the second lefty to win a major when he claimed the green jacket in 2003. Until then, Bob Charles’ 1963 Open Championship win had been the lone lefty accomplishment.
(Charles, incidentally, never finished better than 15th in nine Masters starts.)
But the numbers, however incremental they might be, rose because of the advancement and changes in equipment. Chamblee said the modern-day golf ball is harder to draw than cut; meanwhile, clubs are finely tuned to a professional’s game, no matter which side he’s swinging from. Lefties who years ago might have simply been satisfied with dabbling in golf now can go all-in without hesitation.
“For years, there wasn’t that many lefties on TOUR,” Watson said. “Now with equipment, there’s more lefties and now there’s more chances for us to win the Masters a few more times.”
It also helps that Mickelson is one of the dominant players of his generation, and Watson may very well be for the current crop of players.
As for Harman, the only lefty in the field who hasn’t won the Masters?
Although this is his first Masters start – he’s in the field this week thanks to his 2014 John Deere Classic win – this is not the first time he’ll have played Augusta National. In fact, he played it as a 16-year-old, and then also a handful times while in college at Georgia.
He doesn’t necessarily buy into the left-hander’s advantage, noting that plenty of right-handers have won the Masters. (Harman, it should be noted, is right-handed in everything but golf.)
Still, if Augusta National wants to cater to left-handers, Harman’s not opposed to a little help. After all, as he recently told the Athens Banner-Herald newspaper, “all the other courses set up for right-handers.”