Though my father was known as a man of calm demeanor who could put any student at ease, there were times, for sure, when he could be quite demanding. He was insistent, for example, in his view that championship golf required both precise physical and mental technique. On the subject of mental toughness, Dad was especially keen. In this and other respects, it turned out that he, in his own quiet way, was well ahead of his time.
Dad’s years of competing against almost two dozen future members of the World Golf Hall of Fame and his numerous experiences as a coach and teacher equipped him, ostensibly, as a sports psychologist. And, like his attitude toward teaching the game’s physical side, he didn’t mince words either, when it came to the game’s mental side. His sage advice on golf’s dizzying array of mental challenges always would get to the root of the matter. For instance, none of my father’s students ever heard him offer such one-dimensional mental “tips” like, just focus on the target and think positively. Or, take some deep relaxing breaths and “be nice to yourself.”
As far as my father was concerned, the essence of golf’s mental elements begins with understanding why you play the game in the first place. This basic awareness plus certain other key factors, e.g., competitive and structured training, skill mastery, socialization, attaining the correct balance in life and, an intense desire to win were principles that Dad relied on to instill mental discipline in Jack Nicklaus at various stages of his growth and development as a player.
Nicklaus learned early and often from my father that the best thing he could do on the golf course was to understand why he played golf; what he thought about when he played golf; to trust his play; to make his own decisions; and, most importantly, how to teach himself.
It was a valuable lesson that the Golden Bear finds ageless. He said, “Jack (Grout) had me not only learn the game, but learn my game. He did not teach me to “just do it,” but why I was doing it. He made me use my head, not just my golf swing.”
Nicklaus continued, “That was the whole idea. When I went out to play golf, I didn’t have to run back to him. He taught me to be independent. That’s how I became a good player.
That’s what I learned — being able to get on a golf course and learn what my own abilities were, to play within my own abilities, understand my abilities and understand what I could do with them.
Jack Grout might have been the world’s best golf teacher, but that is not for me to judge. What I do know is that he certainly was a tremendous motivator, with a special knack for teaching me what to do and to do it on my own.
The best lesson I can give to an average golfer is to know your game, play within yourself, and only then, can you improve. I don’t care if you’re a 2-handicapper or a 20-handicapper, if you learn that, you’ll be a better player.”