Left-handed people have always been at a bit of a disadvantage in life. Of course, it’s better than it was a few decades ago, when the prevailing wisdom was the left-handedness was a shortcoming that needed to be corrected. Even so, many processes, equipment and tools still favor right-handed people, forcing their southpaw counterparts to adjust.
One arena where left-handedness can sometimes be an asset is sports. Baseball hitters, pitchers, and fielders have an advantage in many instances over right-handers (the same goes for cricket bowlers), and the rarity of left-handed hockey, basketball, and football players force their defenders to adjust the way they play.
However, golf is a game which can be somewhat cruel to left-handers. Because lefty golfers are so rare (even left-handed people tend to golf right-handed), it’s difficult and/or costly to even find clubs for them, much less experienced instruction. It’s hard to measure how many people have given up golf altogether simply because the sport is less than friendly to their dominant hand.
That said, a few men have gone on to play professional golf despite the fact that they stand on the “wrong” side of the ball. Make no mistake: southpaw golfers are still considered rare on the PGA Tour, but there are a few of them still swinging – and a small number of them are earning money as well.
Though there are undoubtedly more left-handed golfers on other pro tours, this list focuses on the ten who have earned the most prize money while playing in PGA Tour events. Here they are, along with their career PGA winnings:
10. John Engler, Jr. – $72,694
Engler’s story is a bit dispiriting. The three-time All-American from Clemson University was starting to get his professional sea legs on the Buy.com Tour when he was involved in a serious auto accident in March of 2003. A passerby pulled him from his vehicle minutes before it exploded, but Engler’s foot was severed at the ankle. To his credit, he underwent half a dozen surgeries in nine months, began rehab in 2005, and made it through Q-school the following year. Then he managed to compete in 27 events on the PGA Tour in 2006, where he earned money in seven of them. But because he had to ice his ankle for two hours every night, he made the decision to stop pursuing a professional golf career – although he still competes in amateur tournaments.
9. Ernie Gonzalez – $275,728
The San Diego native made his PGA Tour money from the mid-eighties to the mid-nineties. But he only broke the $20,000 mark in earnings in two years. Gonzalez logged three top-25 finishes in 1987, and won almost half of his career total in 1986. That was the year he won his only PGA event: the Pensacola Open, which was shortened to 36 holes because of rain. Even so, that was the first victory on the tour by a left-handed golfer in 12 years. Gonzalez tried to make a comeback on the Champions Tour, but made only one cut in two seasons of play.
8. Kevin Wentworth -$1,044,288
The first career-earnings millionaire on this list, Wentworth fared very well during his five seasons on the PGA Tour. The Oklahoma State alum made 12 of 28 cuts in 1998, then earned over $400,000 the following year by notching six top-25 finishes and four others in the top ten. The 2000 season saw Wentworth’s best career finish when he was the co-runner up with J.P. Hayes at the Honda Classic in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, missing the top spot by a single stroke. Wentworth then only made three cuts in 2001 and 2002, earning just over $53,000 during those two seasons.
7. Eric Axley – $2,793,449
Axley, who was born in Athens, Tennessee, is the first lefty on this list who has won a full-length PGA Tour event. That career highlight came in his first full year on the circuit in 2006, when he captured the title at the Valero Texas Open in San Antonio by three shots (despite a late double-bogey). The $720,000 paycheck from that tournament represents more than a quarter of Axley’s career earnings. Since that year, Axley has only recorded three top-ten finishes, all of which came in 2008. Finishing out of the money in 2011 and in 2013, Axley is trying to reverse his fortunes this season. He did finish in the top 25 at the Puerto Rico Open last month with four rounds of par-or-better golf.
6. Russ Cochran – $5,579,837
Cochran, a University of Kentucky grad, is currently on the Champions Tour full-time. But the 55-year old southpaw can say that he earned money on the PGA Tour in 24 consecutive years. His banner year was 1991, when he earned almost $685,000 and his only career victory at the Centel Western Open. During that event, which was being held for the first time at Cog Hill Golf and Country Club in Lemont, Illinois, Cochran overcame a seven-shot deficit in the final eight holes in swirling winds to hold off his playing partners, heavyweights Greg Norman and Fred Couples, for the title. Cochran also lost in a playoff at the Tour Championship that year to Craig Stadler. Since he stepped onto the senior circuit in 2009, Cochran has eclipsed his PGA Tour winnings with over $6.4 million in prize money, including a 2011 Senior British Open championship.
5. Greg Chalmers – $8,772,111
Not only is Chalmers a left-hander, he’s also Australian. Born in Sydney, Chalmers won the Australian Amateur tournament and the French Amateur Tournament when he was barely out of his teens. He also captured the professional Australian Open title 13 years apart – in 1998 and in 2011. On the PGA Tour, Chalmers is still winless for his career. But he does have two second-place finishes: a five-way tie at the 2000 Kemper Insurance Open in Potomac, Maryland; and a three-way tie at the 2009 Buick Open in Grand Blanc, Michigan (won by Tiger Woods – for the third time). Chalmers has exceeded the million-dollar mark in three different seasons in his career. His best finish this season was at the McGladrey Classic in November when he tied for tenth place and banked almost $122,000.
4. Steve Flesch – $18,113,790
Another Kentucky alum, Flesch was born in Cincinnati and cut his teeth on the Asian Tour and the NIKE Tour before joining the PGA Tour ranks in 1993. But Flesch didn’t make the top-25 of any event until 1998, when he did it 21 times (including a second place finish at the Freeport-McDermott Classic in New Orleans). Flesch notched his first career win in 2003, five years later, in the Big Easy at the HP Classic, then followed it up in 2004 by winning the Bank of America Colonial in Fort Worth, Texas. Flesch’s best year was 2007, when he captured titles at the Reno-Lake Tahoe Open and the inaugural Turning Stone Resort Championship in Verona, New York. Flesch posted four years when he earned over $2 million, and four others where he eclipsed the $1 million mark. He won almost $77,000 in the 2013 season but has yet to make the cut this year.
3. Bubba Watson – $21,631,925
Many people still remember Watson‘s tearful victory on the second playoff hole of the 2012 Masters over Louis Oosthuizen on the second playoff hole, less than two weeks after Bubba and his wife Angie had adopted a baby girl. Since his first full season on the PGA Tour in 2006, Watson has earned at least a million dollars (including in 2014). Born in Bagdad, Florida, the lefty played for the University of Georgia before turning pro in 2003. In addition to his Masters victory, Watson has captured titles at the 2010 Travelers Championship in Cromwell, Connecticut; the 2011 Farmers Insurance Open in San Diego, the Zurich Classic of New Orleans later that year (also in a playoff), and this year’s Northern Trust Open. He’s currently fifth in this season’s FedEx Cup standings.
2. Mike Weir $27,064,182
Many people may not know that Weir thought about switching sides to play right-handed golf, but was encouraged to stay the course by none other than Jack Nicklaus (to whom Weir wrote a letter as a teen). Born in Sarnia, Ontario, the Canadian graduated from Brigham Young in 1992 and turned pro later that year. Since then, Weir has notched eight PGA Tour victories, three of which came in 2003. That was the year when Weir won The Masters in a playoff with Len Mattiace, which came after winning two California tournaments three weeks apart (the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic in Palm Springs and the Nissan Open in Pacific Palisades). Weir posted ten seven-figure earnings years, with the last coming in 2009. But he has not finished in the top 25 since 2010, and has earned barely over a quarter million dollars in the previous four seasons.
1. Phil Mickelson – $73,505,913
When they call you Lefty, you know you’re the greatest left-handed golfer of your time. The San Diego native honed his craft at Arizona State, and won his first PGA Tour event as an amateur while still in college, capturing the Northern Telecom Open title in Tucson, Arizona (and is still the last amateur to win a tour event). Since turning pro in 1992, Mickelson has never amassed annual earnings less than six figures – and has ended each season with at least $1.2 million in prize money. He has 42 tour wins to his name, including five majors: the 2013 Open Championship, the 2005 PGA Championship, and the 2004, 2006, and 2010 Masters titles. Mickelson has eclipsed the $5 million annual earnings mark six times, and trails only Tiger Woods in career earnings.