Cack-handed golfers can still get a grip despite unconventional method

John Gallagher remembers it vividly. He’d just addressed his golf ball on the tee at his opening hole in the 2010 French Open, having qualified for the European Tour event, and could sense the strange looks he was getting from spectators.

John Gallagher in action during the 2018 SSE Scottish Hydro Challenge at Macdonald Spey Valley Golf in Aviemore. Picture: Tony Marshall/Getty Images.
John Gallagher in action during the 2018 SSE Scottish Hydro Challenge at Macdonald Spey Valley Golf in Aviemore. Picture: Tony Marshall/Getty Images.

Had the nerves on such a big occasion led him to pull his putter out of the bag rather than his driver? Had he actually placed a ball on the tee? Or was it simply that the zip on his trousers was down?

‘No’ on all three counts and the Edinburgh man knew exactly why the people around the 10th tee that day at Le Golf National, subsequent venue for the 2018 Ryder Cup, made him feel as though he was a Martian.

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Unlike the vast majority of golfers around the world, Gallagher plays the game cack-handed, meaning he grips the club with his left hand below the right one. It’s a method that lots of people use when putting, but not that many adopt for every shot.

Mike Robson in action for Kingsknowe in an Edinburgh Summer League tie at West Linton in 2006. Picture: Kenny Smith

“I started when I was 14 years old and it felt comfortable for me,” said Gallagher. “When I got into the Lothians junior set up at the age of 16, I did try and change my grip, but it only lasted two weeks.”

Benn McLeod and Mike Robson, two other cack-handed players from the Lothians, tell similar tales about how they started out using the unconventional method, which was also used by Kirkintilloch’s Jimmy Hay, a former Scottish international.

“My parents got me a half set of Ben Sayers clubs when I was four-year-old and, because my dad isn’t a golfer, when I picked the clubs up left hand low, he didn’t say a thing,” recalled McLeod.

“At the age of 13, I got my first handicap, which was 24, and Royal Musselburgh used to give juniors group coaching with the head pro at the time, John Henderson.

Musselburgh's Benn McLeod in action dueing Open regional qualifying at Bruntsfield Links. Picture: Ian Georgeson.

“I went along to this block of sessions and, when I told John I was off 24, he immediately said, ‘I will change your grip to the normal way as you will be lucky to get down to single figures if I don’t.

“So I changed my grip for the block of lessons and, after the sixth and last one, we had a competition to see if we had improved on the changes we had made. I scored 24 shots worse than my previous worst score and, with little patience at 13, I just felt holding the club the ‘normal way’ wasn’t comfortable for me.”

In Robson’s case, it was also through simply not knowing any better that he started out as a cack-hander. “I played football mainly when I was young, but occasionally went up the Braids with school mates to play golf,” he said.

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“None of us were any the wiser how to hold a golf club. We just did what felt natural and cack-handed was the way I started.”

All three managed to do pretty well in the game despite being discouraged and, at times, laughed at for holding a golf club differently from most others.

Gallagher reached the final of the 2005 Amateur Championship at Royal Birkdale, won the Scottish Amateur Championship at Prestwick two years later and has been a pro for more than a decade.

“Looking back, I'm glad I stuck with it,” he added. “Going on to win the Scottish Amateur in 2007 was fantastic not only for myself but for all the cack-handers.

“After turning professional in 2010, my grip would always get some strange looks when I was playing abroad. I remember teeing it up in the French Open after qualifying in 2015.

“At the time, my confidence was not too high and, as I teed up on the 10th in round one in front of a fairly busy stand, I had a swing and all I could was murmurs in French. Luckily for me, I hit a good one down the middle.”

McLeod, who now plays at Monktonhall in Musselburgh, has been a Lothians team member for eight years and holds two course records, including Gullane No 1 with a 63.

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“Being told I couldn’t do something, I felt I had better try and prove the professional wrong,” he said, laughing. “Looking back, I obviously have and, while John Henderson was maybe right in what he said, I’m obviously a lucky one.”

Robson, a former Kingsknowe member who is now the club manager/secretary at Swanston on the outskirts of Edinburgh, played county golf in Scotland, Wales and England in his prime. At that time, he was a big-hitter.

“In 1993 at Royal Liverpool, Simon Mackenzie, Raymond Russell and Stephen Gallacher were in the Scotland team for the Home International and I went down to cheer them on,” recalled Robson.

“Stevie would only be 19 and he was betting the English internationalists on the practice ground that I could knock it past them cack-handed, which I duly did!”

While Robson, Gallagher and McLeod have always had to compete against players with conventional grips, a new Scottish Cack-Handed Championship over 36 holes being planned for August by Alan Tait, the man behind the Get Back to Golf Tour in Scotland.

"Always been amazed at the ability and talent of cack-handed golfers,” said Tait. “I’ve no idea how they do it, so to recognise and celebrate this unique bunch, I’m launching the first Cack-Handed Scottish Championship.”

Though not eligible due to it being only for amateurs, Gallagher gave the idea a thumbs up, saying: “I'm absolutely delighted to see Alan is doing something for cack-handed golf.”

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