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Thursday, May 5, 2016

Struck Strikes Out

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Yesiree, Bob!

The photo accompanying this column represents the circumference of a majestic circle that stretches from Iowa to New Zealand to the PGA Tour and the world over that took nearly 50 years to complete.

You see, for some strange reason - be it my Dad, uncle Jigs, a dominant right eye, a long-ago Little League coach, or maybe a lack of right-handed bats - I've always batted left-handed. It just came naturally to me.

I do everything else right-handed except for a few exotic, ambidextrous maneuvers that I will leave as is at this time. I shoot baskets, stroke tennis shots, bowl, throw, flip the bird, eat and write right-handed.

But, for some reason, I grew up batting left-handed, which leads me to the sport of golf.

Because we couldn't afford it and golf courses were for the wealthy and privileged when I was a boy, I never golfed. The closest I got to golf courses was to follow my high school sweetie there and hunt for lost balls in the weeds and ponds as she and her hoity-toity friends played. I got a quarter apiece for the good balls I found, which rivaled my newspaper route money, so I encouraged the girl to play on whenever she so desired.

She eventually left me for a scratch golfer but I sure did miss all those quarters.

As golf began to eek its way into national exposure thanks to Arnie and Jack and Tom, among others, a humble, quiet New Zealand professional named Bob Charles caught my attention because he was the lone pro at the time who played left-handed.

Introduced to the game by college buddies, I struggled to learn the grip, swing, and how to hit straight a tiny ball sitting there still on a tee right-handed. Couldn't do it.

Former PGA and Champions Golf Tour veteran Sir Bob Charles of New Zealand pauses for a picture with 9-year-old Alex Struck at a tour stop in Kansas City nine years ago. Photo by Paul Struck
As I learned the game, I checked with local club pros and all they could do was teach right-handers because they had no left-handed clubs and didn't know how and didn't want to instruct "port-siders" because they'd have to double their equipment inventory if lefties ever caught on.

But I persisted and Bob Charles was my guiding light. If he can play left-handed, than so can I, I reasoned.

Sir Bob Charles has the dual distinction of being the first left-handed golfer to win a major championship and the first player to be inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame from New Zealand.

A natural righty, he does everything right-handed except, as he says, "....play games requiring two hands." As such, Charles was the first southpaw to reach the very highest levels of competitive golf. And in doing so, he led the way for such left-handed major tournament winners as Phil Mickelson, Mike Weir, and recent Masters Champion Bubba Watson.

About 10 years ago at a Champions Tour event in Kansas City sponsored by my brother-in-law's company, my son Alex and I had VIP privileges and late in the day we loitered around the clubhouse watching the legendary PGA golfers roll in after finishing their rounds.

When I spied Sir Bob Charles, I strolled over to the scorer's tent where he was signing balls for fans and waited patiently to introduce myself. Always a proper gentleman, Bob saw Alex and me waiting in the wings patiently. He then walked over to us and gave Alex a signed ball and then signed Alex's tournament cap that hangs proudly in his room today.

I said, "Mr. Charles, because of you I play golf left-handed. My sons Adam and Alex play golf left-handed. We would all be righties hacking it all over the place if it wasn't for you. Everybody tried to change us along the way. You're the reason we have embraced this game."

Sir Bob thanked us and then invited us for a soda on the players' private deck. We visited about golf, Iowa, New Zealand and that country's influence on fast-pitch softball in the United States. He said "fastball" was a national sport in his homeland, but golf was his favorite sport. He thanked us for following the Champions Tour and said he hoped to see us again next year at the Kansas City Champions Tour stop.

Then we all took a right-handed swig of our sodas, snapped some photos, and said our goodbyes.

Sir Bob's 75 years old now and retired from the tour, but I'll never forget watching him play, cheering for him, and finally meeting him in person.

Through the years I've experienced a lot of good days in my life involving sports. This was one of them I'll never forget.