By Andrew Farrell

Left-handed screen golf is impossible because of the location of the sensor.

His mother motivates him to improve in every subject and score the highest grades with offers of lavish gifts. He doesn’t come from a wealthy family, and he rarely sees his father, even thought they sleep under the same roof. Mommy and Daddy work every day of the week in a petrol station in Gwangju, usually for horrendously long hours, so they afford to send their son, a genius, to a huge number of private academies and institutes specialising in English, Korean, math, science and music.

He was promised a trip to the USA if he did well in his middle school entrance exams. He did. Very well, in fact. But his parents had to downgrade the choice of gift and will instead buy for him a new iPhone. He doesn’t mind. His grades are exceptionally high, and he even uncovered statistics to show where he stands in all of Gwangju.

OK, he may not be a genius, but this fourteen boy must be pretty close. His English is on par with a native speaker and he devotes whatever free time he has in the week to working on scientific experiments in his house. He wants to work in nanotechnology when he grows up, but concedes that in order to reach his goal, he will need to sleep less, and study more, when he starts middle school next month. “I will sleep for six hours and then just five in high school,” he says with a wide grin and awkward chuckle that suggests he is fully aware the best days of his life are being washed away.

And, when I say “whatever free time”, I mean it. His Saturday hours are from 9am to 10pm of pure study. One academy after another. Sundays are like a vacation in comparison; 2pm until 10pm. He loves baseball, especially the local KIA Tigers baseball team, and he knows a lot about them. But he can never see them play.

Despite this, he arrives to my weekly class full of joy and happiness. He enjoys relaying the more entertaining moments of his week, which usually fall between classes. His eyes lit up last week when recalling the home made chocolate his Valentine gave him on February 14th. He knows that once this small spring vacation is over, he might not see her again. I once told him my daily schedule, growing up in early-twenty first century Dublin. No academies – just class and sport, 7 days a week. He pulls an exaggerated expression of surprise, almost like he doesn’t quite believe me or he is trying desperately hard to summarise what I have just said.

So, given the sacrifices he is making, and the extraordinary devotion he has to his studies, does it not seem a little unfair that he is forced to keep from his extended family that he is left handed? He often reiterates the importance of not telling his grandmother, and does so with a look that suggests he is a veteran of having people question why his mechanical pencil is perched in “the wrong hand.”

I told a colleague about his situation, and she instantly challenged the truth in what he said. But then I remembered that this is a country that simply does not cater for left handed people, certainly in the world of golf and games played at the Wii Café. Amusingly, my colleague then went on to say that when she was growing up, her father told her not to write left handed.

Turn up at your local screen golf centre or driving range, and good luck being able to rent left handed clubs. Even if you have smuggled your own ones into the country, you simply won’t be able to use them. In screen golf, the small mat that you strike your ball from is cater only for right handed golfers because the thick black box which contains the censor recording the power and accuracy of your shot, is positioned in such a way that it prohibits the use of left handed clubs. The driving range has a small digital display beside the ball. You can request new balls from here, or alter the height of the tee, and even check how much time you have left. But, again, it is positioned in such a way that playing left handed means you are off a map, and your club is bearing down on a small digital box in your swing.
Try playing from here if you are left handed. The censor blocks immediate access to your ball, the box of recycled balls is in the way, and you are playing onto a raised platform.

I also remember teaching in my old school, and watching a 5 year old girl (the age system here, again) cry for a full class because the Korean partner teacher kept taking her pencil out of her left hand. She was, therefore, unable to form letters properly, couldn’t recognise when she was running out of space on a line, and, subsequently, starting writing down the page, as opposed to from left to right.

Whatever Korea’s mentality to lefties, I don’t know. But it is strange that, in golf, left handed people are not catered for and some students are either left to battle on silently, or are forced to change a way that seems completely unnatural to them.