As I revisited Jack Grout’s Foreword in Jack Nicklaus’ Golf My Way, it occurred to me that Dad wrote much in the same effective manner as he taught the game of golf. Either as a writer or as a teacher, he used simple, clear sentences and language to make his point. My father didn’t bog down sentences with extra words and long, winding sections. He cut to the chase and made his point in the simplest language possible. Plainly, Dad had his own unique way of stringing words together, formulating ideas, and relating scenes or images. Now, after re-reading, my father’s ‘expert opinion piece’ written nearly fifty years ago for Nicklaus’ instructional classic, I can almost hear his voice again.
Golf My Way, Copyright 1974 by Jack Nicklaus
Foreword by Jack Grout, American professional golfer and Jack Nicklaus’ one and only teacher
Strength, intelligence, an enormous capacity for hard work, and unswerving adherence to sound fundamentals are the factors behind Jack Nicklaus’ fantastic successes as a golfer.
Strength may not be essential to play fine golf, but it is a priceless asset. The strong man can with comparative ease secure the height that is essential to carry the golf ball a long distance, and he also has the muscular capability to power the ball. These are critical factors at the highest reaches of the game, as is the stamina to practice and play day after day after day. It has been my privilege to observe or be associated with every great golfer of the twentieth century with the exception of Harry Vardon. Almost all of them were strong men. During my time in golf there have been some wonderful performances by men not gifted with great physical strength, but in the long haul they have run second to the powerful players. I believe that few men in the history of the game have possessed greater strength or more natural athletic ability than Jack Nicklaus.
Intelligence is necessary to a tournament golfer because the game is so difficult and inconstant that it can destroy anyone who lacks the capacity to control his emotions and to reason logically. Intelligence is necessary, too, in the acquisition of a profound knowledge of technique – profound enough to allow the player to be his own swing mechanic. The golfer who must fall back on a teacher every time any little thing sours in his game cannot but have a limited future. Jack Nicklaus still likes to come to me every year for a checkup, but, beyond that, he has asked for my help only when he hasn’t been able to solve a problem after weeks or months of intense personal study and work. Such occasions have been rare.
Today, Jack plays such sensational golf with such apparent ease that many people who watch him probably gain the impression that his skills are heaven-sent rather than self-developed. That isn’t true. No one ever worked harder at golf than Nicklaus during his teens and early twenties. At the age of ten, in his first year of golf, Jack must have averaged three hundred practice shots and at least eighteen holes of play daily. In later years, he would often hit double that number of practice shots and play thirty-six – even fifty-four – holes of golf during the summer. I have seen him practice for hours in rain, violent winds, snow, intense heat – nothing would keep him away from golf. Even a slight case of polio failed to prevent him from turning up at Scioto for a golf match. With this kind of dedication, and all his other assets, it would have been a surprising if he had not become a great player.
However, I believe the most significant of all the factors that have contributed to Jack’s success has been his unswerving adherence to sound swing fundamentals. It was my good fortune to be the professional at the Scioto Country Club in Columbus, Ohio, when this young man first became really keen on golf in 1950, and I take modest pride in having introduced him to many of the fundamentals that I consider to be the key to consistent play. But the credit for mastering those fundamentals, and for sticking to them through thick and thin, must go entirely to Jack. It is true that I have never had another pupil with so much natural talent for golf, or one so determined to excel at it. More significantly, I have never had another pupil who, once he was convinced about a fundamental, would so resolutely stick to it. The proof of that iron-willed commitment is to be seen in the fact that his basic swing is exactly the same today as it was fifteen years ago, when he won his first U.S. Amateur Championship at age nineteen. The benefits of it are evident in the present repetitiveness of his swing, and in the immense confidence he has in his technique today.
During forty years of teaching golf I have had a lot of naturally talented people pass through my hands. I feel I was able to help most of them, but none of the others progressed even halfway to what Nicklaus has achieved. I believe I can pinpoint a number of specific reasons why not.
First and probably foremost, the golf swing is, in my view, the most unnatural action in sport. It is extremely hard to teach, and even more difficult to learn. Consequently, unless a person has unusual amounts of ambition and dedication, the sheer difficulty of golf generally causes him to give it up long before he has attained his full potential at it.
Another reason there aren’t too many budding Nicklauses to be found on the lesson tee is that most people take up golf too late in life. The ideal age for starting is in the early teens. And then, even when a really promising youngster comes along, you have to be realistic about the distractions he will face in relation to the amount of time and concentration golf demands. I have always insisted that youngsters should not take golf lessons until they are ready to concentrate – give the game their undivided attention and interest. I had no problem in this area with Jack. He was more single-minded about golf than any other youngster I’ve ever known has been about anything – even the opposite sex! For a very long period I don’t think the young Nicklaus ever really thought about anything other than golf, and the better he became at it, the more he thought about it and the harder he was inspired to work at it.
However, I think the best clue to why Jack went on from where others with comparable natural talent have stopped lies in a brief sentence from his book The Greatest Game of All: “I was fortunate to learn the fundamentals at an early age.” Jack and I both know countless promising golfers who have become hopelessly confused through failing to learn these fundamentals at the outset, usually with the result that they start confused and then compound the confusion by switching from method to method or from teacher to teacher, until eventually they end up trying to play a dozen different ways all at once. Jack never fell into that trap, and I believe that his evasion of it is one of the less-recognized factors behind his greatness.
It gives me much pleasure that Jack’s fundamentalist approach to golf comes across so loud and clear in these pages, because my teaching has always been based on what I believe to be the time-proved fundamentals of the golf swing, even when such an approach has been unfashionable – as has been the case many times in my career. So far as I’m concerned, you can toss all the “tips” into the garbage can. The only way to play consistently good golf is through the mastery of a set of basics that the great players of the past have proved to be integral to the swing.
What are these basics? I don’t want to steal the author’s thunder by getting deeply involved in technique here. The basic points we worked on for so many long hours during those happy and productive years at Scioto will all be spread before you in these pages by the best pupil I ever had.
But there is another, nontechnical phase of the game that bears mention here, because I believe it had probably as great an effect on Jack’s later career as did his efforts to develop sound technique.
Jack Nicklaus started to play competitive golf at a very early age, and it did wonders for him, as it has done for many other youngsters. Formal competition puts the game in clear perspective for a youngster, by giving meaning to what he is learning about technique. It causes him to become aware of the need for strategy, as well as fine shot-making; makes him realize that he will have to think well to win, not just swing well. It breeds maturity by thrusting him into pressurized situations and subjecting him to the emotions of success and failure. It builds self-confidence and self-reliance, and it helps a youngster to overcome nervousness. Most of all, in the majority of cases – certainly in Jack’s – competition fires and sustains a youngster’s enthusiasm for his sport, and breeds the development of goals and the dedication that leads to their attainment. I believe a lot of Jack’s adult successes both on and off the golf course can be traced to the maturity and clear-headedness that grew out of his early competitive golfing experiences.
Finally, as a player and teacher of golf for forty years. I’d like to say a word to any readers of this fine book who have youngsters they’d like to think might follow in Jack Nicklaus’ footsteps.
There have been thousands of boy and girl wonders in golf, but most of them have fallen apart before reaching adulthood. Why? I think the main reason is that they failed to learn sound basics during their early years, and thus held their games together to a certain point only through natural ability. As they grew older and the competition got tougher, this was not enough to carry them through.
I do not believe it is possible for any youngster, however naturally talented, to learn the fundamentals of golf in less than five years of dedicated effort, and even then I think that qualified guidance is essential in he is to reach his full potential. One of the great difficulties every golf professional encounters in teaching children to play the game is combating the misinformation given to them by their parents. By all means let a youngster read about golf, and encourage him especially to watch good players in the flesh and on television. But if you want him to play the game well, take him to a qualified teacher and resist the temptation to interfere with that teacher’s program.
Jack Nicklaus was given that opportunity, and there was no doubt from the moment we began to work together that he would make the most of it. He was totally attentive, he asked intelligent questions, he had an infinite capacity for hard work, and his desire knew no bounds. He was certain to be a star. Even so, he never ceases to amaze me. I find his achievements astounding. There is no doubt that he is one of the greatest golfers of all time – possibly the greatest. It has been my privilege and joy to know him.