I’ve always felt that my father was the ideal teacher for Jack Nicklaus, not just because Dad was a highly skilled golf instructor, but also because he had spent a couple of decades on the PGA Tour dealing with tough, competitive and sometimes-curt men such as Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson and Sam Snead. Through his interactions with these great players, he grew to understand the drive and the personalities of highly talented individuals who often were self-involved and insensitive to how their actions impacted others. Dad, thus, had an intuitive understanding of Nicklaus’ strong and demanding personality, intense focus and occasional impatience with persons or issues that distracted him from the work at hand.
My father, with his relaxed way of dealing with people and his low-key approach to teaching golf, matched well with Nicklaus’ personality for several reasons. First, Dad was consistent. Through exposure to accomplished professional golfers on the early tour and decades of working with good players, he had come to a set of golf-swing principles that he taught unwaveringly. He was not attracted to and did not confuse his pupils by advancing every new swing theory that came down the pike. Nor would Nicklaus have wanted him to. Second, Dad was by nature a highly supportive and encouraging person, and this characteristic won him great loyalty from Jack Nicklaus, Raymond Floyd and many other top-level golfers who were his students. And, third Dad was by nature a humble man. He drew great satisfaction from the success of those he taught, but he had no need to be the “star of the show.” He was happy to stand in the background and let his golf students take full credit for their successes both on and off the course. This was his viewpoint for one simple reason: He felt they deserved it.
Jack Grout “was perfect for my dad,” said Nicklaus’ son, Jack Nicklaus II, himself a talented golfer and course designer. “Whether it was my dad’s analytical mind trying to understand on his own accord what to do and how to make adjustments on the golf course, or Jack Grout’s way of teaching that allowed him to do that … it was probably a combination of both. Whatever buttons Jack Grout pushed, my dad responded very well to.”
Mr.Grout, I’d like to tell you a story about Jack Nicklaus you’ve never heard. I attended the U.S. Open in 1975 at Medinah as a 17 year old golf fanatic. My hero was Mr. Jack. On Saturday I bought a hat and hung around the practice tee to get it signed. I got many great players to sign for me, but not Mr. Jack. I skipped work Sunday to attend the final round I tried to follow him as best I could and checked the scoreboards to see where he stood. As he stood on 16 tee, he needed three pars to win outright. Unfortunately, he went bogey, bogey, bogey to finish one back of a playoff. I can’t imagine how he felt. I waited to the side of 18 green to see if he’d be kind enough to sign my visor. I left an open space in the center just for his signature. After he putted out he was whisked away by a USGA official to the scorer’s tent which was on the opposite side of the practice are about 400 yards away. I ran past a security guard and through a snow fence to follow the cart. I ran alongside the cart keeping quiet as he was going over his card. When his cart reached the scorer’s tent, I was stopped from following his cart inside by security. I was devastated. The one autograph I wanted most was lost. I stood there for a couple of minutes and I saw Mr. Jack motion to the driver. He had the official put the cart in reverse and back up to the entrance where I was still standing. He looked at me and asked if there was anything he could do for me. I was in shock. I asked him if he’d sign my visor. He wanted to know where he should sign and I showed him the empty place in the middle I’d saved. He asked if there was anything else he could do and I said no and expressed my condolences on the outcome of the tournament. He shrugged it off and said goodbye. To this day, I still get choked up when I tell this story. To lose that Open chance and be kind enough to go back and sign a kids visor was the most impressive act of sportsmanship and kindness I’ve ever seen in any sport. That’s why, 47 years later, he is still my hero. I’d love to meet him in person and thank him again, but that’s not likely to happen. If you talk to him, see if he remembers the kid that chased down his cart at Medinah in 1975. I still have the visor. Thanks for taking the time to read this. Tom Kraft.
Beautiful memory, Tom. Thank you for sharing it with me.
I tried to order your book but it was out of stock. I’ll try later. My maternal great great uncle, Arlie Frost (1867-1947), was a famous harness racer. I remember when you lived on Tremont Road in Upper Arlington, Ohio.