Why lefties like Phil and Bubba
have success at the Masters
Few dispute that here’s an advan- tage in shaping tee shots right to left
at the Masters. But Bubba
Watson’s victory has made
it clear that in today’s game,
that advantage is most accessible to left-handers.
Lefties have now won five
of the last 10 Masters, quite
a contrast to the British
Open and the PGA each
having only one southpaw winner in their long
histories, and the U.S. Open
having none. True, Phil
Mickelson has won three of
those green jackets, and in
2003 the relatively short-hitting Mike Weir actually curved
most of his tee balls from left to right, which for him is a
draw. Still, something is going on here.
The way Watson’s power fades curved along Augusta’s key
doglegs down the stretch allowed him to play from places
that other players simply couldn’t reach. On Sunday, Bubba
jump-started his late charge with a right-to-left bomb around
the corner on the 510-yard par- 5 13th that left him only a
9-iron and followed that by sending his low-flying “cut” driver
along the 440-yard, dogleg-left 14th to within 56-degree sand-wedge distance of that green and another birdie.
Those two holes made it clear that Watson’s length, shot
shape and relative accuracy with the driver on a course
with some room to miss makes the Masters a paradise for
power-hitting left-handers. Other than being automatic
from less than 10 feet, Watson’s way with a driver is the
closest thing to an ultimate weapon at Augusta National.
And while Watson predictably didn’t deconstruct his edge,
he knows the course gives him one. “I thought it was very
suited for me,” he said post victory, “because I like to cut
the ball off the tees.”
This is not to say the Masters can’t be won by hitting
the driver left to right. Plenty of right-handed players
have won favoring a fade, most notably three-time winner
Jimmy Demaret and six-time champion Jack Nicklaus. In
both those cases, a great player chose to favor the inherent
Left-handed complement: Watson’s prodigious power fade is a great fit for holes
such as Augusta National’s dogleg 14th.
consistency of his natural
ball flight, although
Nicklaus was better at
drawing the ball when
he wanted to than he has
been given credit.
On the other hand
many right-handed play-
ers have felt the right-
to-left shape important
enough at Augusta to
risk learning a draw,
specifically to increase
their chances of winning
one tournament. The
latest player to make
that attempt is former
No. 1 Martin Kaymer,
who worked on develop-
ing a draw before last year’s Masters and hasn’t played
as well since.
But what is most interesting is that whereas right-handed players who favored a draw, like Arnold Palmer,
won a lot of Masters and had a decided advantage pre-2000,
today’s equipment has given power-fade hitting left-handers
at Augusta an even bigger one.
Here’s why: Almost every recent technological advancement aimed at improving a tour pro’s longer shots—be it with
the clubhead, the shaft or the ball—has been about reducing
ball spin. Especially with their drivers, pros want a penetrating flight that is best achieved when there is less spin.
It turns out that this new stuff makes it harder to hit a
draw yet easier to hit a fade. And because the new fade
does not carry as much spin as the fade hit with older
equipment—especially with persimmon and balata—it
does not suffer from the drastic distance loss as its predecessor. For power hitters especially, the low-spin “slider”
has become pro golf’s money shot off the tee.
Which is why lefties such as Mickelson and Watson get a
win-win at Augusta. They can hit the hard slider that is most
easily repeated with the new drivers, and its shape is perfect
for several dogleg-left holes—Nos. 2, 5, 9, 10, 13 and 14.
There’s no disputing this Masters was about Bubba
golf. But going forward, it will also be remembered for the
advantage of lefty golf. N
Andrew redington/getty imAges