Don’t be too proud to take lessons. I’m not. Jack Nicklaus
In his first forty years of golf, Jack Nicklaus had but one teacher. That man, Jack Grout, died in 1989 at the age of seventy-nine from lymphatic cancer.
Nicklaus was only ten when he met Grout in 1950 at Scioto Country Club in Columbus, Ohio. Grout, an Oklahoman, had become the club’s Head Professional that year. He’d turned pro at fifteen, in 1925, and in 1930 accompanied his brother Dick to Glen Garden Country Club in Fort Worth. Ben Hogan, then seventeen, and Byron Nelson, then eighteen, were junior members. The threesome practiced mornings and played three or four times a week in the afternoon.
Grout, Hogan and Nelson took to the road to follow the PGA Tour. They drove a roadster from tournament to tournament, tying their bags of clubs on the side of the car. Grout lasted until 1957 on the Tour, the final seven years while working at Scioto, where Nicklaus’s father Charlie belonged.
The elder Nicklaus asked if he could enroll his ten-year-old son in Grout’s two-hour Friday junior clinic. Young Jackie enrolled all right; he was the first to register and was always the first youngster on the tee. Soon, Grout was asking his young protégé to demonstrate certain points about the swing.
The rest, as they say, is history, where Nicklaus is concerned. He went on to become probably the best golfer ever. And, Grout was always at his side. Grout and Nicklaus went over the swing from A to Z at the start of every season. Meanwhile, they became close friends.
In the way of the world, Jack Grout died precisely at 7:45 a.m., on Saturday, May 13. That was Nicklaus’s scheduled starting time in the third round of his own Memorial Tournament at his own Muirfield Village Golf Club near Columbus, where Grout was also the Professional Emeritus. “J. Grout,” Nicklaus always called him, and now J. Grout was gone.
Said Nicklaus: “Jack was like a second father to me. He was part of our family … He taught me how to play the game and he’s been at my side whenever I needed him.”
Grout also had something to say. Item 6 of his Last Will and Testament was handed to Nicklaus soon after Grout died. The document tells it all.
“Having heretofore disposed of all my worldly goods, I have just one final bequest I should like to make. If there is anytime at all in the life of a man when he should make an extra effort to be truthful, and at the same time sincere, I think it must be while he is preparing his Last Will and Testament. What I have to say in the next few words comes straight from my heart.
“Over the course of the past thirty years or so, from time to time I have read in various books and magazines about the contributions I have made to the career of Jack Nicklaus. Since this may be my last opportunity to do so, I thought maybe it would be well to set the record straight.
“In all honesty, I don’t think I ever hurt Jack’s golf game in any way. To put it another way, if he had not come under my tutelage in the early 1950s I don’t see how he could have turned out much better than he did. From the outset of our relationship I recognized that the thunder in his stroke and the courage in his heart were gifts that clearly had been bestowed upon him; and that there was very little I could do to take them away from him.
“I do not mean to suggest that I made no contribution whatsoever to his game. For one thing, I worked him hard (and he seemed to enjoy every minute of it). I made him stand away from the ball with his arms fully extended, and I insisted that he swing hard. Within a few months you could hear the swish of his clubhead all over the practice range when he took one of his legendary cuts at the ball. I made sure that his posture was correct; I fitted him correctly with equipment; from time to time I would check his grip, or maybe the rhythm of his swing. I always tried to encourage him; and in the early days of his development I made a special effort to explain to him and interpret for him how extraordinary I thought his talents were, and for that matter still are.
“If I made any other worthwhile contributions, which I can’t think of now, or if I made any of which I may be unaware, I am grateful that I had the opportunity to do so. There is not the slightest doubt in my mind that Jack Nicklaus is the finest golfer ever to swing a club in the entire history of the game. It has been a distinct honor and great pleasure for me to have played some part in his career. And that brings me to my final bequest.
“To you, Jack Nicklaus, I give my thanks.”
Lorne Rubenstein, SPECIAL MOMENTS from CHICKEN SOUP for the GOLFER’S SOUL