He Whistled While I Worked

May 15, 1970 on the practice tee at La Gorce Country Club, Miami Beach, Florida

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! This time, put a little smoky Joe from Idaho on it! Don’t worry where it goes. We can fix that later.

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 slugfests, a famous member of the club walked past and made a brief observation. The man came out with, “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 “metaphor” which was one of his teaching methods. Trying to create some “images” 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 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 consarned 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, my father pursed his lips and blew. I knew it was now or never for me in our little contest. As his eyes were riveted on the rocket that I blasted which continued to go 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!”  My father, knowing the gig was up, nonchalantly replied, “Dickie, I’ve been breathing for a long time.”


6 thoughts on “He Whistled While I Worked

  1. Great story, and I like the fact that your dad encouraged the “aggressive” swing at times. Ive always noticed that free wheeling the golf swing (especially the driver) helped reduce any “stearing” of the golf ball especially under pressure. This is of course as long as I could stay in balance. Do you believe the same thing, or do you encourage a more controlled driver swing and why? I assume your dad encouraged Jack Nicklaus to swing hard at times. Do you believe this was one reason Jack hit it so long for his time?

    • Thanks. I’m glad you enjoyed it. My father felt that a golfer with sound fundamentals could be aggressive and “just go at it.” I feel the same way. Once the pre-swing essentials, i.e. grip, steady head position, and stance are squared away. Then, you go for the turn of the body and the full extension of your arms and hands. You’ve got to have speed in the swing. The more you stretch and coil during your backswing, the greater the likelihood of creating clubhead speed and power. Power is leverage and speed.

      This explains one of the reasons why so many pros and amateurs hit the ball as far as they do. The other, of course, is equipment. The modern ball is the biggest reason for the length we get these days. Had Jack Nicklaus played during his prime with today’s equipment he would still be among the longest hitters of all time.

  2. Great story! Most amateurs get too “pumped up” when they start peeling onions off the tee box. In order to preserve proper swing form, what would you consider the key factors which generate the added power used during the drive? Is it through more rotation on the backswing?

    • Good metaphor and question – Solid bedrock of fundamentals allows you to swing properly while knocking the devil out of that ball. More rotation helps as long as it’s together with full extension. To achieve full extension you must:
      • Make as full a hip turn as you can without straightening your back leg or shifting weight onto the outside of that foot
      • Make as full a shoulder turn as you can while maintaining a steady head position
      • Swing your hands as wide and as high as you can without shifting your head position or loosening your hold on the club.

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