He lost to himself

July 11, 2019

After eight years of writing this column for the Beach Paper, this has to be one of the most unbelievable stories that I have ever come across in my golfing/writing career. In previous columns, I have told of fantastic shots from the pros during major championships, crazy hole-in-one stories from amateurs around the world and other bizarre happenings on the golf course. But this story is one of my all-time favorites.

I usually research my library of golf books and the internet for something new each week, but this time the story literally found me. While sitting in the waiting room for my chiropractic appointment, my doctor came out of his exam room with a 2014 copy of a Sports Illustrated article by Steve Rushin. He handed it to me and said, “Read this before you come in the exam room, you won’t believe it.”

Before I attempt to tell you this story, I want you to think about your personal golf game and the struggles you have had over the years trying to master a game which many believe cannot be mastered. Next, think about the complexity of being right handed and using your left brain to maximize your game or using your right brain to hit left-handed off the tee, etc. Try to analyze your bad tee shots, chili dips, sand trap adventures and putting woes over the years, remembering that you use the opposite side of your brain when you hit a shot. At this point, I could use a nap just trying to understand how all the neurons fire inside your skull when you tee it up and let it rip. I do, however, understand how paralysis through analysis can disrupt your game when you overthink your swing.

Now, if you are ready, I will introduce you to a retired golfer who started out as a professional baseball pitcher. His name is Jim Kaat. Jim was a southpaw who won 283 games over a twenty-five seasons. His career started in 1959 when he broke into the big leagues with the Washington Senators and finished with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1983. Along the way, he also pitched for the Minnesota Twins, the Chicago White Sox, the Philadelphia Phillies and the New York Yankees, but didn’t take up recreational golf until 1971, at age thirty-one.

When he was invited by Fred Cox (the Vikings place kicker at that the time), to play his first-ever round of golf at the Minnesota Valley Country Club, the club pro only had a set of right-handed clubs to lend Kaat. Soon Kaat was hooked on golf, played right handed (for the next twenty-five years), but still pitched left handed in the Major Leagues. In 1995, at the age of 57, he decided to take up the game of golf left handed and attended a Jim Flick academy for instruction.

He was now obsessed with playing ambidextrous golf and practiced with a vengeance to train his right brain to accomplish the task and complement his left brain. He became a better golfer left handed than right handed over the next two years.

Twice a week, he competes against himself in a better ball match, using right handed and left handed clubs, which he says, “can be tough on the brain.” In 2009, a few days before his birthday, lefty Kaat shot his birthday age of 71, at Glen Falls Country Club in New York, which is considered a milestone for any golfer. Then on December 7, 2013, righty Kaat did the impossible, when he rolled in a 15 foot putt on the eighteenth green at his home course in Florida to card a 75 and beat lefty Kaat by three strokes, 75-78.

Kaat had obtained the holy grail of golf by shooting his age (71) left handed in 2009 and his right handed age (75) in 2013. It is a feat which many consider impossible to duplicate, and by all odds could make Kaat the only golfer in the world to ever the accomplish shooting his age as an ambidextrous golfer.

19th Hole trivia:

• Jim Kaat won 283 games in his career, but he is not in the MLB Hall of Fame, despite a lifetime ERA of 3.45, 2,461 strikeouts and three 20 win seasons.

• Leonardo da Vinci was also ambidextrous and could draw with his left hand while writing with his right.

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