BY JACK NICKLAUS
I GOT INTO GOLF THE WAY A LOT OF KIDS DO: I HAD A GREAT TEACHER
I was only 10 years old, but I still remember taking this group lesson in June 1950. The teacher was Jack Grout, the pro at Scioto Country Club in Columbus, Ohio, where I grew up. Jack would become my teacher for almost 40 years. (I’m the one standing to his immediate right.) He took a great interest in me from the beginning, and that got me really excited about golf.
Mr. Grout often used me as an example with the other kids. He’d say, “Jackie Buck, show us how to hit this shot.” He took the same interest in other juniors, too, and that made us feel important and gave us confidence. It was part of his genius for teaching.
He was influenced by Alex Morrison, a leading teacher in the 1930s and ’40s. One of Morrison’s principles was rolling the ankles: Roll your left ankle on the backswing, and your right ankle on the downswing. It was one of the first things Mr. Grout had me do, often at home without a club. It’s a great way to feel the weight transfer, and rolling onto your right instep through impact helps you release the club properly.
Jack stressed the fundamentals, particularly grip and head position. At first he put my left hand in a strong position, so I could see the knuckles on the back of my hand. As I got stronger, he moved it into a neutral position. Mr. Grout had an interlocking grip, so that’s what I started with, and he saw no reason to change it. I never did.
He also wanted my head steady. Any up-and-down or sideways movement makes the swing more complicated. A steady head helps you deliver the club and adds rhythm.
Another fundamental that Mr. Grout stressed for young golfers was to develop as full an arc as possible; the best shoulder turn was the fullest shoulder turn. His thinking was that by extending, extending, extending, a young golfer stretched his muscles, and he could not do this later when the muscles had become so much less flexible.
There were other fundamentals that Mr. Grout gave tireless attention to, such as the stance (we were all taught the square stance in those group lessons), and, the necessity of hitting down on the ball and not scooping the ball on the upswing. Each of these is important. I still think about them today.
I need hardly underline how fortunate I was to meet up with Mr. Grout when I was so young, for countless promising golfers I know have become hopelessly confused by switching from one teacher to another and attempting to play twelve different ways at the same time. I was spared all that.
If Jack Grout had not arrived as the new pro at Scioto concurrent with my father’s convalescence, right now I would probably be selling insurance Monday through Friday and flipping a fishing rod for my weekend fun. Conceivably, I would have continued to play golf, or come back to it in later years. But I am certain that my life overall would have been very different from what it became.
-Written with Roger Schiffman/GolfDigest/January 2014