Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane: They shoot left but swing right
09/05/2014 3:05 AM
09/05/2014 3:05 AM
Jonathan Toews brushes his teeth with his right hand. He throws a baseball right-handed. He plays golf as a righty, though not particularly well.
But in the sport in which he earns his paycheck the Blackhawks star blasts pucks from the left side.
So while his hockey sticks are customized for a lefty, the sticks he uses at Beverly Country Club, his home golf course, were built for a right-hander.
"Does that make any sense?" Toews asked. "Is that weird?"
Yes and no.
Despite the obvious similarities in swings left-handed hockey players far outnumber their professional golfing counterparts.
Of the 23 players on the Hawks' roster, 15 play left-handed. Compare that with the world population, which has an estimated 10 percent leaning left. Then look at the top 25 money winners on the PGA Tour and you will find only one lefty - Bubba Watson, who happens to be No. 1 on that list. (Phil Mickelson jumped from 86th to 33rd after his second in the PGA Championship.)
Patrick Kane does it the same way as Toews, torturing goalies from the left side while torturing himself - golf can be cruel - from the right side.
"My dad's a righty and I started with his clubs and got used to it," Kane said. "I wish I would have started lefty, but I've figured it out a little bit."
It might seem counterintuitive, but here's why it makes sense: A hockey player who swings lefty uses his right hand - the stronger hand for natural righties - to anchor the stick and control accuracy. In some situations requiring an extended reach a player may have only the top hand on the stick. Simply put, the top hand is the more important hand.
In golf, however, the key is to make a "power move," said Joe Bosco, an instructor at The Glen Club in Glenview. So smacking powerful drives from the right side while lasering pucks to the upper corners of the net from the left is a logical combination.
For parents wondering if their children should play right- or left-handed, the website hockeygiant.com recommends the broomstick test: The way they sweep is how they should fire pucks. (Side benefit: You will have a cleaner floor.)
Bosco, author of "Real Golf," plays from either side. He learned to play lefty as an adult so he could empathize with students who are new to the game.
"I'll hit a few shots lefty and there's instant credibility," he said.
Hawks left wing Bryan Bickell does everything left-handed. You would not tinker, either, if you occasionally could outdrive a PGA pro such as Watson.
Toews said that at Denis Savard's charity golf event in 2013, the 6-foot-4, 233-pound Bickell won the long-drive contest with a bomb "that went ridiculously far, well beyond 350 (yards). And he was hitting some stock clubs from the back of the shed. Guys call him 'Boneyard Bickell.' He likes to hit the home runs. Does that on the golf course too, but I don't know how he is inside 100 yards."
Responded Bickell: "I drive for show but can't putt for the dough."
Kevin Weeks, the director of instruction at Cog Hill in Lemont, said left-handers used to grow up playing righty because of the lack of quality clubs.
Michael Bradley, a four-time winner on the PGA Tour who has worked with Weeks, is a natural left-hander but doesn't play that way. When Bradley, 48, was learning the game, Weeks said, "the left-handed equipment was so bad."
That didn't stop Mickelson, though. He learned to play lefty by mirroring his father's right-handed swing.
Baseball players who bat lefty have an edge because of the preponderance of right-handed pitchers - statistical percentages bear that out - and White Sox slugger Adam Dunn is among those who take advantage. But he switches it up when moving from the batter's box to the tee box.
"I've never golfed left-handed in my life," he said. "It just feels very awkward."
Dunn is not about to putt left-handed, but sometimes he wonders if he should swing for the fences from the right side.
"Maybe I should have started hitting right-handed," said Dunn, who is batting .201 since signing with the Sox in 2011. "I don't know. It's weird."
On the ice Kane and Savard say there's no benefit to either side. But Bickell believes there is a slight advantage to shooting left-handed, speaking in somewhat confusing terms about the preponderance of right-handed goalies and "a whole bunch of different angles" that favor lefties.
Few golf courses favor one side, though lefties have won six of the last 12 Masters, starting with Mike Weir in 2003. Watson and Mickelson can fade their massive drives on the 13th and 15th holes at Augusta National, leading to eagle opportunities on the right-to-left par-5s.
A 2012 study by Northwestern University's Daniel Abrams and Mark PanSaggio, published at sciencedaily.com, found hand preference is partially genetic and partially environmental. Identical twins, though sharing the same genes, don't always have same-handedness.
Weeks, recently named one of America's 50 Best Teachers by Golf Digest, has researched eye dominance as it relates to putting. He found that 35 percent of golfers are cross-eye dominant - meaning lefties who are right-eye dominant and vice-versa - but that it was not a significant impediment to their success.
Simply put, the golf ball doesn't know if it's being struck by a Tiger (righty) or a Phil (lefty).
Toews explained his right-leaning ways in the same terms as Kane.
"My dad got me into golf when I was maybe 7 or 8," Toews said. "I got really passionate about it. I wanted to play lefty but for some reason he told me, 'This is the way you play golf.' So I switched (to righty) and have been that way ever since. Some days I wondered if I was destined to be a lefty, but at this point it's not going to happen."
Toews said he carries a 15-to-20 handicap, meaning one of the NHL's pre-eminent players struggles to break 90 like so many of us.
Savard said of Toews' golf game: "What you see on the ice is what you see on the golf course. He hates to lose. Let's say he's a 15-handicap - in his mind he thinks he's a scratch."
Savard wonders, though, if Toews would be better playing golf from the left side.
"It's the same motion," he said.
Asked about Toews' game, Bickell replied: "There's a lot of swearing. He gets frustrated. ... He can lose it at times."
Added Kane: "Jonny's a good golfer. He can blow up pretty quick though."
Hey, it's not easy being a lefty trapped in the body of a righty. Or is it the other way around?
Tribune reporter Colleen Kane contributed.
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