Jim Kaat finished a 25-year career in Major League Baseball in 1983. One of roughly 30 players whose career spanned four decades, "Kitty" Kaat retired with arguably a career worthy of the Baseball Hall of Fame. But while he must remain patient and wait for another Hall of Fame vote in December 2014, we have no hesitation giving him Hall of Fame status in our Records and Rarities record book based on what he did earlier this month.
Kaat, who turned 75 on Nov. 7, shot his age on Dec. 7 at McArthur Golf Club in Hobe Sound, Fla., a Tom Fazio-Nick Price work. That alone makes him one of just thousands who have shot their age. But Kaat's 75 was as a righthander, and together with three other age-shooting rounds he's had from the left side, the feat makes Kaat the first golfer we've chronicled who has shot their age from both sides of the ball.
More proficient as a lefthander, the lefty hurler had shot his age from that side at age 70, 74 and on Nov. 24 at age 75. Because of his two-sided ability, he often found it enjoyable to grab a caddie and play a round from both sides of the ball, in essence playing a match of Righty vs. Lefty. It was in such a match on Dec. 7 that Kaat, with caddie Mike Adamson, shot a 78 lefthanded and had a 12-footer on 18 to shoot 75 righty. Knowing exactly where he stood, Kaat drained the putt, turned to Adamson and said, "Do you know what that meant? I just shot my age."
A 6-handicap lefty, but a 10 to 12 righty, Kaat had a little fade working all day from the right side to shoot his age. "One of my favorite movies is 'Let It Ride,' with Richard Dreyfuss," Kaat said of the 1989 racetrack film. "And one of the lines said quite often is, 'I'm really having a good day.' And that's the way it was that round."
The ability to play from both sides of the ball is not unheard of, but to do it well is very rare. Johnny Bulla and Mac O'Grady are examples of pros who excelled from each side. Kaat had a unique entry into the ambidextrous world. As a young pitcher with the Minnesota Twins in the 1960s, he kidded others his age for wasting their time playing golf. But Fred Cox, a kicker with the neighboring Vikings, got Kaat on the course when Kaat was around 30. Even though he was a southpaw, as Bulla was, Kaat played righthanded for similar reasons Bulla played righty as a pro. "I was told it was a righthander's game and you couldn't get lefty equipment, which we know now was nonsense," Kaat said.
As time went on, and Kaat developed the yips with short-game shots while playing around 1994 at Sailfish Point in Stuart, Fla., member Gerald Barnett suggested he try hitting shots from around the green lefty. "I was humbled for awhile, whiffing and topping," Kaat said. But he soon became better lefthanded, and now hits the ball about a club and a half longer from that side. When he shot his righthanded 75, Kaat played McArthur from 6,000 yards righty and 6,400 lefty. (Kaat is diligent with his scorekeeping, maintaining two GHIN numbers, and yes, he knows his right from his left.)
Kaat, who plays mainly at McArthur and at the classic Walter Travis Ekwanok Country Club in Manchester, Vt., has longevity in his athletic pursuits. He played MLB until age 44, and now is playing well on the golf course in his 70s. Working both sides of the body is something more trainers are promoting, and the physical act of swinging from both sides is something Kaat advocates. He believes it has kept his body flexible and in good alignment. Kaat has a case of scoliosis, so after playing lefthanded a few rounds in a row, it is physically helpful that he play from the other side to keep his spine aligned. He' also does Pete Egoscue's training and flexibility exercises, made famous by Jack Nicklaus' use of them.
Kaat admits to being obsessive about golf. "If you put together all the features I've read about golf, it would be quite a notebook," he said. His wife, Margie Bowes, a former assistant golf pro who now has her amateur standing back, even provides some incentive. "I've beaten her, rarely, as a lefthander, so I have a goal to beat her righthanded," he said with a laugh.
Ambidextrous bragging rights over the spouse? He'd be our first in that category too.