The Nicklaus Way What you probably don’t know about “Big Jack’s” golfing education
In the last issue, I spoke about tips that Nicklaus learned from Ben Hogan, during practice rounds and conversations with “The Hawk.” These tips had nothing to do with the technicalities of the golf swing. The point I was trying to make is this: Very often teachers concentrate so much on the golf swing that they forget that the whole objective of helping golfers improve and lower their handicap revolves around the total game. Nicklaus, like Hogan before him, realized that golf is all encompassing, and links to improvement require much more than just hitting the ball solidly.
In this installment, the last in a two part series, I will again go outside the realm of the swing, and point out how Hogan further influenced Nicklaus. Next, I will go into who Nicklaus’s teacher Jack Grout learned from and what he passed along to his star student.
What Nicklaus Learned From Hogan
Nicklaus’s pre-round practice sessions, like Hogan’s, were all business, and included mental and physical rehearsals of the shots that were likely to be played on the course during the tournament.
Whatever the shots Nicklaus is likely to play in a tournament he’s about to compete in, particularly a major championship – – power fade, draw shot, high ball, low ball, extra-high long iron, soft pitch, lob wedge, long sand shot, lag putt, or short pressure putt – – he rehearses each one mentally first, seeing the perfect shot come to life in his mind’s eye. Next, he methodically sets up, aiming at a specific target as if he were hitting a shot that counted during competition. Hogan did the same thing, but took things to the extreme when rehearsing a curving shot. When practicing a draw or fade, he would go to the end of the range and try to wind the ball around a real tree, instead of being satisfied with imagining one.
Like Hogan, Nicklaus only concentrates on one swing trigger when practicing shots. However, again, like Hogan, he uses a different swing thought for a different shot. For example, in hitting a drive he might think, “Slow back,” to encourage a smooth takeaway, and when hitting a running chip, “Let the hands lead the clubhead into impact.” Like Hogan, too, if he hits a bad shot, say on a practice drive, he will try a different swing thought or a different physical action and keep “reloading” until he gets it right. That’s because, like Hogan, Nicklaus believes that the harder you practice the better you get.
What Nicklaus Learned From Grout
What I found fascinating in doing my research for The Nicklaus Way, is that a little-known book I found in an antique shop (e-mail Geoff Bryant for the name) allowed me to discover why Jack Grout was such an exceptional teacher.
Nicklaus began taking group and private lessons from Grout at age ten. Grout was the golf pro at Scioto Country Club in Columbus, Ohio. Many of you know this, but what I bet you don’t know is why Grout was such an extraordinary teacher who was able to turn young Nicklaus into a golfing genius.
At age twenty, when Grout became an assistant to his older brother Dick, the pro at the Glen Garden Club in Fort Worth, Texas, he played and conversed with two young talents who played the course: Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson. As if this were not enough, Grout also learned from pro Henry Picard, when he later worked as Picard’s assistant at the Hershey Country Club in Pennsylvania. When you consider that Picard was the man who provided Hogan with golf hints learned from Alex Morrison, the teacher of the 1920s and 1930s, you can appreciate the wealth of knowledge passed on to Nicklaus. If Grout, Hogan, Nelson, Picard, and Morrison were compared to universities, you’d be talking about Nicklaus getting an education from Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Oxford, and Cambridge.
Because Grout had watched great players swing and great teachers teach, by the time he began teaching Nicklaus in 1950, he knew what really was theory and what really was fact regarding golf technique. Since Hogan had his own personal influence on Nicklaus, let’s focus on what Grout learned from Hogan and passed on to young Jack.
Setup Key: Nicklaus, like Hogan, sets the club down a couple of inches behind the ball, instead of directly behind it, to encourage a low and slow-takeaway action. (As a matter of note, Moe Norman, the eccentric Canadian player, takes this to the extreme, setting his club down a full foot behind the ball. If a student of yours cocks the wrists too early in the backswing and hits down too sharply, have him setup like Nicklaus.)
Swing Key: Nicklaus, like Hogan, shifts his legs laterally toward the target before clearing his hips vigorously, to ensure that his club lags behind the hands a split second longer in the hitting area. This one move forces the club into an open impact position, with the result being a power-fade that both Nicklaus and Hogan preferred.
Shot-Making Key: Like Hogan, Nicklaus takes thin bacon strip type divots rather than pork chop type divots. That’s because both Hogan and Nicklaus hit across the ball and hold on for dear life with their left hand through impact. Because the club basically brushes the grass, rather than digging into it, these two golfing greats never hit flyer shots. Their distance control was superb.
Share the aforesaid tips with your students, and the results may surprise you. One more thing: When they hit bad shots on the course, have them imagine a door closing as they leave the green and enter the new room of the next tee. Both Nicklaus and Hogan were the best at forgetting the past and focusing on the present. That, my friends, is what your students must learn to do.