Genesis Invitational

Riviera Country Club

The Loop

Bob Charles Will Be Hall of Fame's First Lefty

Left-handers are commonplace in professional golf these days—-from Phil Mickelson to Mike Weir to Nick O'Hern-—but that wasn't always the case. Bob Charles, the last addition to the World Golf Hall of Fame's Class of 2008, was a trailblazing southpaw. "I think I demonstrated that left-handers are at no disadvantage," Charles said Wednesday on a teleconference, after his selection in the hall's veterans category. "It's great to see more and more people playing naturally."

Charles, 72, the first New Zealander and the first lefty to be selected to the shrine, won the 1963 British Open. It is the highlight of a lengthy career that is still ongoing--he finished T-20 last week in the Russian Seniors Open in Moscow. "I've actually lost count," Charles said when asked how many times he has equaled or bettered his age. "I started bettering my age at 65. I've been able to [do it] every year since then." Charles has six PGA Tour victories, 24 international titles and 23 wins on the Champions Tour.

Playing as a southpaw came naturally to Charles, whose parents both were left-handed golfers (his mother started out as a righty). "I'm not left-handed at all," he said. "As I say in a lot of my clinics, I wear a right-handed glove and I stand on the right side of the ball, hit it on the right side of the clubface and hit the ball to my right. I'm right-eyed [dominant], right-handed, right-footed. Anything I do with two hands I automatically put the left below the right. I [use] a double-hand backhand in tennis, which virtually would be a left-handed stroke in golf."

Charles was exposed to the game very early. "My mother used to push me around the golf course when I was just a few months old," Charles remembered. "I like to say I cut my teeth on golf balls. Whether I did, I don't know."

Sir Bob--who received the Order of the British Empire from the Queen of England in 1972, was honored as a Commander of the British Empire in 1992 and Knight Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 1999--was a long time ago a sweet-putting young man dreaming of a golf life beyond the shores of homeland.

"In 1954 I started subscribing to Golf World magazine," Charles said. "I won my first New Zealand Open that same year. In fact, I've continued to subscribe. I have a library at my home in Christchurch for the 54 years of Golf Worlds. In my early days, from 1954 onwards, I really followed what was happening with golf in the United States."

He also was influenced by a prize for winning a mixed foursomes tournament with his mother, a book by British great Henry Cotton. "I was quite fascinated with the lifestyle of Henry Cotton and how he traveled all over Europe and the United States. I built up a great interest in the game and a life of traveling."

Charles will be inducted Nov. 10 in St. Augustine, Fla., along with Pete Dye, Denny Shute, Carol Semple Thompson, Herbert Warren Wind and Craig Wood.

--Bill Fields