The secret to mastering golf: play with your other hand

The key to improving your golf handicap may be to implement a simple, yet drastic, change: play with the other hand. 

Reversing playing style – right-handed people playing with their left hand, and vice-versa – involves a person putting their dominant hand at the top of the club above their non-dominant hand. 

This rejigging, scientists say, helps improve swing control, accuracy and power in regular golfers. 

Famous examples of players who switched to the other side of the tee include five-time major winner Phil Mickelson – who is a right-handed person playing with his left hand – and former world No 1 Jordan Spieth, a left-handed player who swings a club in a right-handed manner. 

Dr Oliver Runswick, lecturer in performance psychology at King’s College London, studied the pros and cons of reverse-hitting in a paper published in the Journal of Sports Sciences. 

“Four men have won one of golf’s major championships using a left-handed stance … Of these men, three prefer their right hand when writing; Phil Mickelson (ironically nicknamed “Lefty”), Mike Weir and Sir Bob Charles, with only Bubba Watson preferring his left hand for other everyday activities,” he said. 

“Three-time major winner Jordan Spieth throws and shoots left-handed but plays golf in a right-handed stance.”

Dr Runswick recruited 150 golfers of varying abilities to take part in the study, with 30 participants in five different handicap categories.

“Category one” players included tour professional golfers, members of the England squad, club professionals, and club golfers. The other four categories included golfers recruited from an English club.

Scientists found nine of the 30 golfers in the category one group used a reversed stance, whereas there were only five in the other four groups combined.

The study found that a professional golfer was 21.5 times more likely to adopt a reversed stance than the casual player. 

However, the advantage of the reverse stance could not be explained by ambidexterity or the dominant eye.

Dr Runswick suggested that although it may initially be easier to pick up a club and hit the ball with a traditional grip, swapping the hands around may be beneficial in the long run.

Increased accuracy and distance

The most common reasons “reversed” golfers gave for choosing to ditch the traditional approach were increased accuracy and distance.

Phil Mickelson, a five-time major winner, is a right-handed person who plays with his left hand

Credit: Eric Risberg/AP

Dr Runswick concluded: “We found a significant over-representation of category one and professional golfers adopting a reversed stance.

“An equal number of professional and category one players displayed a reversed-stance. This suggests a reversed-stance may not differentiate players at the highest level but may be helpful in reaching that category of player.

“There could be an advantage available to players who learn to play golf in a stance opposite to what would be traditionally expected from their hand preference.”

Dr Runswick suggested that the traditional approach with the dominant hand nearest the clubface makes it easier for novices to hit the ball cleanly when picking up the game of golf for the first time. 

Skilled players can benefit, too

However, as a person’s skill level increases, they may benefit from having their dominant hand at the top of the shaft. 

“Having a strong grip further from the striking end would increase power due to the main pivot being further from the striking end of the club and increase control as the top hand guides the swing,” he said. 

“There may be an advantage to playing golf with a reversed-stance due to the placement of the preferred hand at the top of the club. This could have a significant effect on how the game is taught and played.”

The 30-year-old, who plays off a handicap of eight himself, said: “I do think this could have a significant effect, even if it’s just getting kids to try both ways round, rather than just saying, ‘here’s a set of golf clubs, which hand do you write with?’.

“This isn’t just for kids though but also for those who are new-ish to the game. There’s always scope to question traditional methods and advance things.”

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