Jack Grout was an aficionado of the long-drive. It didn’t matter if you were pro or amateur, man or woman, large or small. When you were swinging your driver, he wanted you to whack the daylights out of that ball. Even a hint of laziness in this regard would bring his stern disapproval.
Dad even had his own lexicon when promoting this philosophy. Some of his more inspirational maxims were: “Let’s see you peel that onion. Come on; put some smoke on that potato. Hey, quit hittin’ it like a girl. Go ahead, wheel and deal this next one. Don’t worry where it goes. We can fix that later. This time, put a little smoky Joe from Idaho on it!”
Of course, a golf lesson from my father involved a lot more than just “swinging for the fences.” Typically, when he watched me, we’d begin with a few short irons, maybe 6 or 8 with a wedge or 9-iron. Next, I’d hit about 8 or 10 middle-iron shots. By the time I struck another 10 or 12 balls with my three-iron or a fairway wood, dad would say, “OK, let’s see you get out your smoke pole.” Then, I’d spend an hour or so, walloping drivers.
During one of these slug fests, a famous member of the club walked past and made a quick comment. The man said, “Jack, you’re gonna kill that kid!” It was none other than the great Eddie Arcaro, the only jockey in history to ride two Triple Crown champions, Whirlaway in 1941 and Citation in 1948. Mr. Arcaro had witnessed our extravaganza and apparently was concerned for my wellbeing!
One morning, just before engaging in another ball-busting session, dad presented me with another one of his “images and metaphors.” Trying to create some “pictures” in the mind of his young student, my brilliant teacher asked me, if, I thought I could keep the ball up in the air for a longer period of time than he could whistle. Naturally, I knew it was another one of his ploys to coerce me into creaming that ball even farther. In any case, the arrangement was this; he would take a deep breath during my backswing. Then, at the moment my club contacted the ball, he would exhale and begin to whistle.
I was about sixteen years old when dad and I began that whistle contest. Throughout the next two or three years, whenever he whistled he could always out-whistle my very best drives. It didn’t matter how far I launched one. I was never able to bomb one far enough to outlast that blasted whistle of his. In spite of developing into an extremely long hitter, I never won.
Then, during a break from college, he and I were on the practice tee once again, going through our routine. I was really cranking them out there and dad was just whistling away. After one colossal blast, that actually cracked the persimmon face of my driver, dad pursed his lips and blew. I knew it was now or never for me in our little contest. As his eyes were riveted on my rocket that continued going up, up and away, I posed on my finish and peeked back at him. The ball took so long to come down that dad had to sneak in a quick breath to keep whistling. But, this time I saw him. I cried out, “Ah-ha. I caught you. I caught you breathing!” Dad, knowing the gig was up, nonchallantly replied, “Dickie, I’ve been breathing for a long time.”