By TOM PASTORIUS, Citizen-Journal Sports Writer, May 16, 1977
Jack Grout has the title of professional emeritus/teacher-in-chief at Muirfield Village Golf Club. It might well be pro extraordinary.
What he really is is a pro’s pro, the man the world’s finest golfers turn to when, even as you and I, their games turn sour.
IT’S BEEN well-chronicled how he took over a strong, determined 10-year-old named Jack Nicklaus in 1950 at Scioto Country Club and helped the youngster build the swing of the man most generally considered golf’s non-pareil.
To understand the teaching talents of Jack Grout let’s look at his background, investigate his credentials.
Born in Oklahoma City on March 24, 1910, his formal schooling ended on May 29, 1929 upon his graduation from Classen High School. He turned professional at age 15. His first pro job was at a nine-hole golf course called Edgemere in the countryside outside Oklahoma City. In February, 1930 he went with his older brother Dick to Fort Worth, Texas, at Glen Garden Golf Club where two of the junior members were Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson.
JACK REMEMBERS those days with fondness. “The first time I saw Ben he had three left-handed clubs and four right-handed ones. He was a wild kid, could hook the ball in both directions. He could play both ways. I never saw anything like it.”
To quickly run through his club jobs: his next stop in March, 1937 was Hershey Country Club in Pennsylvania, where Henry Picard was the playing pro, Jack the teaching pro; after that he had a series of short-stint club-pro jobs at Fox Hill (PA), Twin Hills (OK), and Butterfield (IL). Belt-tightening during the Great Depression and then the onset of World War II forced Jack to move around in order to survive. In 1946 he accepted the pro job at Harrisburg (PA) Country Club, which was a step up professionally, and finally to Scioto in 1950 … and his place in history.
GROUT LEFT SCIOTO in 1961 for La Gorce Country Club in Miami Beach, Florida. Opened in 1927 and hit hard by both the Great Depression and World War II, the club enjoyed a renaissance during his tenure as golf professional. In late spring of 1974, Grout informed his colleagues at La Gorce that he was “retiring.” Since then, he has been plying his trade as teaching professional, seasoned mentor and master of ceremonies at Muirfield Village.
Did he play the PGA Tour? He won six tour titles before a bad back (“I’ve had the blasted thing for 40 years”) forced him to decide his future was on the practice tee, not the tourney trail.
He took another nostalgic trip: “I STARTED the tour in December, 1931 with Hogan and Ralph Hutchison, later with Nelson and Dick Metz. There were only 10-12 stops then. We’d all pile into a car, clubs hanging all over. The purses were like $3,500 tops, top prize $600 to $750. One year we played for $10,000 at St. Louis and everybody who could swing a club was there.
“But you must remember in those days you could get breakfast for 20 cents, a helluva lunch for 35 cents and a tremendous 40-cent steak for dinner, and in fine places. A decent hotel room was $1, the best hotel room in town $2.50. We could go pretty good on $40 a week, for everything.”
He withdrew another name from his memory bank, (Lighthorse) Harry Cooper, and recalled: “DO YOU KNOW that he was one of the best strikers of the ball who ever lived, straighter than anyone I ever saw? He was the leading money winner in those days and, from 1926 to 1940, he amassed no more than $60,000 in total earnings. Hell, they make that much in one week now.”
Grout doesn’t begrudge the present pro tourists a penny of what they’re getting but he doesn’t think the majority appreciate how good they have it now nor does he like to compare golfers of different eras: “Back then it was hickory shafts, terrible courses, no grass …”
Jack hasn’t played a round of golf since 1971. “A few years ago I tried to play. Hit off No. 1 OK, drove at No. 2 and walking down the fairway I could hardly make it, walked off the course … The other day I hit about 20 balls, just short shots for Dickie and didn’t die. My back’s alright as long as I don’t play … but no one’s going to cut on me, no sir.”
DICKIE? Yep, his younger son – the Grouts have four children: John, 32 is a National Airlines pilot in Miami; Mrs. Ronnie Dew, married, of Hudson, OH.; Dickie’s 23 and Debbie, 22, is a Kelly girl.
Right now Dickie, under the watchful eye of his dad, is preparing for his second try at the tour, will attempt to qualify at Pinehurst May 31 through June 5 for his card.
Listen to Dickie:
“I STOPPED playing competitively for a brief period while in college. Before long, took it backup. Dad’s really never pushed me. Maybe that’s the reason I’m hard at it now. He’s very, very patient with me, seems to think I have a chance. He really believes I can do it and not just because I’m his son. He took me down to the Masters this year and that really psyched me up. I think dad counted on that.
“I’ve been lucky getting to play with Nicklaus, Weiskopf, Maltbie, Floyd and they’ve helped me, too. What I need mostly is confidence. Dad gets exasperated with me at times … even a saint would. But he’s as patient with me as anyone could be … and I appreciate it.”
Memorial Tournament defending champ Roger Maltbie was in a few weeks before the second renewal, working with Grout. He said: “Mr. Grout’s certainly very smart. He recognizes that I’m not very bright so he keeps it simple for me. One step at a time.”
NICKLAUS ANALYSES Grout’s teaching skills: “Jack doesn’t say too much. He has the ability of not giving you too much at one time. He’ll mention something and, my gosh, maybe two weeks later you’ll wake up and say ‘that’s what he was talking about.’
“He has such a nice way about him. He’s interested, unlike some teachers. He’s really interested in seeing that you improve.
“I laughed the other day when Maltbie said “Hey, does he always work you this hard?”
“There never was a greater guy than Jack Grout. He never pushes himself in. You never know he’s there … but he’s always there when you need him.”
HAS NICKLAUS ever taken instruction from anyone else?
“Not really,” he answered. “Kep (Bob Kepler, his golf coach at Ohio State) never fiddled with my swing. He knew Jack was my teacher. But Kep and I did talk a lot about golf, mostly about theory and managing your round. Kep wasn’t the kind of guy to try to foster his ideas on me. When I was 19, I took one lesson from Claude Harmon, but his theories were so different that I never went back so that’s hardly worth mentioning.”
What does Grout do now when Jack gets off track?
“Sometimes I’ll call him and ask him if he saw me on TV,” Jack replied, “and what did he think. He might mention that he didn’t like my ball position or something like that…”
GROUT HAS GIVEN so many lessons to so many that he needed a golf magazine to refresh his memory. He ran his fingers down the men’s money list: Tommy Aaron, Ray Floyd, Bruce Devlin, Grier Jones, J.C. Snead, Gibby Gilbert, Butch Baird, George Burns are some of the more prominent. Ben Crenshaw had just called him and wanted to come in for some work just before the Memorial.
And he’s peered at the swings of a passel of the women pros, including Barbara Romack, Jo Ann Prentice, Marie Astrologes, Beth Stone, Kathy Cornelius, Kathy Farrer, Silvia Bertolaccini, Sandra Spuzich and Sally Little.
Grout says: “Ninety percent of the women pros are beautiful swingers of the club but only 10 percent of them hit down on the ball. That’s their main fault, they just don’t hit down on the ball. I say ‘hit the ground, hit the ground, have you never heard of a divot?’ Patty Berg hit down alright, played like a good male pro. Some of them are winning $50,000 and hit up on the ball.”
Grout never volunteers his services: “I let them ask me before I’ll make any suggestions … and I don’t know how many free lessons I’ve given.”
Perhaps, his main teaching advice is “Keep it simple,” adding: “It all starts with a good grip and stance, two things you can’t recover from if they’re bad. Next is the head position. Don’t move it, though you can turn your chin a little bit. I recommend a straight left arm (for right-handers) back and through. Hit down on the ball and then make a full extension of the left arm.”
Out on the Muirfield practice range, Grout squinted at his son through eyes lined by thousands of hours such as this. His boy was really busting them and Jack would say: “You look tremendous, now keep refining it … This is going to be your best year in golf … Each year you are going to improve … Only a dumb bunny is going to take it back fast … Why did you do that, Dickie? There, that’s better, that was a beauty …”
YOU COULD SEE the pride and joy in Grout’s eyes as he watched his son, probably the same look he had watching the budding Nicklaus 27 years ago.
Jack Grout’s satisfaction comes from the success of those he’s taught and continues to teach. In that he is a rich man.