How To Make Junior Another Jack Nicklaus

A week before final exams, during my junior year of high school, my father asked me a couple of memorable questions. In his typical nonchalant manner, he said, “Dickie, do you want to be in Golf Digest with me?” My response was a clear and unambiguous “Whaddya’ kiddin’?” Then, he asked, “Can you get out of school?” I gave him an enthusiastic, “Yes, I’m sure I can!”

As it was, my father had already written his article on junior golf for the magazine. What he wanted from me was to be his demonstration model. The photo session was scheduled on May 14-15, 1970 at La Gorce Country Club. Dad and photographer Doug Kennedy worked together to capture the various images needed to illustrate and compliment the story. My father’s feature article along with a number of photos appeared in a four-page spread in the August 1970 issue of Golf Digest magazine.


By Jack Grout

Professional, La Gorce Country Club, Miami Beach, Florida

In my 44 years as a golf professional I probably have taught more than 10,000 youngsters to play the game. Many of them have gone on to considerable success as amateur and professional golfers.

But whenever my name is mentioned in a group of golfers, someone invariably refers to me as “Jack Grout, the man who taught Jack Nicklaus.”

I appreciate the many nice things Jack Nicklaus has said about me. He still comes to me when he wants to work out a problem in his swing. Jack calls me “my only golf pro.” We had a close rapport when he was a youngster of 10 taking up golf. But his great ability was developed more through his own determination than my teaching.

For instance, I first taught Jack in the summer of 1950. He worked harder than any of the 50 or so youngsters I had in my class at Scioto Country Club in Columbus, Ohio. He was always the first there and the last to leave. One of the points I made then, and still do, was that, to be a really fine player, a golfer must be willing to practice. Significantly, when it rained at Scioto, Jack was usually the only one of my juniors who’d come out to the course.

During the past two decades I’ve also had a chance to teach golf to my own sons, so many remarks are made as much from the viewpoint of a parent as from that of a golf professional. My son, Dick, reminds me a great deal of Jack – he even started at the same age. Dick is 16 now, and he has the same attitude toward practice. He hits bucket and bucket of practice balls every day. He appears to have the desire and the determination to become a fine golfer.

Dick’s older brother, John, had a fine golf swing when he was 13 or so, but later lost interest in the game and decided not to play. I didn’t try to argue him out of that decision, and I don’t think that any parent should, in similar circumstances. But now, as an adult, John has started playing again – in fact, he’s worked down to a two handicap. This is tremendously satisfying to me as a father because, in effect, it justifies my action in exposing him as a boy to a thorough grounding in the fundamentals of golf. Once a child learns the basics of the swing (or any skill, for that matter), he’ll never forget them; he can pick up his game again and play at least decently after any period of golfing inactivity or disinterest.

The best incentive to play golf that a child can initially receive is the example of one or both of his parents actively and happily (by which I particularly mean in good temper) playing the game. Unless you spend a lot of time on a golf course, as I do, your children won’t be as naturally exposed to the golfing environment as mine were. But, with very little fuss, it’s possible to involve a child in some of your practice sessions in the backyard or at the driving range. You may even be able to have the youngster trail you for a few holes during an actual round at your course, but only let him tag along while his interest lasts – don’t try to force him into your kind of commitment to the game if his interest wanders.

Golf, to appeal to very young children, has to be fun, a game – not a “must” subject like school or homework. One excellent way of increasing a child’s interest in the sport is to take him to one of the pro tournaments. Most youngsters are thrilled to watch famous sportsmen perform, and if you are able to manage an introduction and chat with one of the players, the youngster will always remember the day. Children are great imitators, too, and will often benefit from watching the actions and absorbing the rhythm and swing tempo of the top players.

Most boys and girls are mature enough physically to start learning golf – at least in a clinic – at age 10. A child will normally take well to group instruction at this time, particularly if he already has been given a taste of the game by his parents. Individual lessons generally should wait until the child is around 14. In my experience, that’s when a youngster generally begins to have the interest and intelligence to properly assimilate detailed instruction, and also to accept the idea of meaningful practice.

Unfortunately, girls tend to give up golf at about age 14 in favor of other pursuits. It’s too bad, for girls have natural rhythm, good touch around the green and the ability to learn quickly. But even the girl who “drops out” of golf will usually have absorbed enough of the fundamentals to make it worthwhile. And very often she will decide to start playing again after she’s married or is well into a career. So don’t automatically count out your daughter as a golfer if she quits as a teenager. She’ll probably thank you for getting her started when she’s a wife and mother herself.

Ideally a child should play with equipment fully-suited to his size and swing. Adult-size clubs, whether “cut down” or not, can produce bad swing habits if youngsters find them too heavy to control and tiring to go on swinging. My son, Dick, started with regular junior clubs, then shifted to using his mother’s (ladies’) clubs when he grew a little older and stronger. Finally, he started using men’s clubs. This is a natural progression for any boy who plays the game regularly.

A sound group-instruction program will, in the course of a summer, firmly implant the fundamentals of golf in a child. It also should be so structured as to give the youngster his first taste of golf competition – showing him the point and purpose of what he’s learning. Thereafter, he’ll probably prefer playing with golfers in his own age group, rather than with his parents, and that’s fine. It’s in actual competition that the junior golfer will quickly learn to play all the shots he didn’t learn on the practice tee.

Parents still have a role to play, though. They must constantly help and encourage the child by setting realistic scoring goals, and in developing a healthy attitude to competition. For instance, as a parent I am always watching for suitable junior competitions in our area in which to enter my son. Young golfers today are lucky in that there are numerous opportunities to compete in club programs, municipal tournaments and the like.

Attempting to do well in a tournament can be a realistic goal, but I believe that it is more important for the parent to help the child set goals that are not directly related to competition. Rather than having a child aim towards winning a certain event, for instance, it is better to encourage him to keep track of his scores. A realistic goal would be for him to make his scores for every two-week period, taken as a total, better than for the same number of rounds in the previous period.

In practice, too, the child should be urged to set goals. For example, he could work with his driver until he is able to put the ball within a designated area half of the time, or chip until half of his shots end up within three feet of the pin.

The photos accompanying this article show my son Dick illustrating the swing fundamentals I would stress in teaching all junior golfers. These are basically the key points I have concentrated on ever since starting to teach golf. The only change I’ve made in my teaching program over the years has been the emphasis I now place on the short game. I believe strongly in the value of practicing all possible shots required from 50 yards and on in – pitches over bunkers, chips from rough, lag putts, and all the rest. Even today I see pros on tour with beautiful swings who, after getting close to the green, can’t get the ball “up and down.” I’d recommend intense short-game practice to any youngster who wants not only to swing well, but also to score low.

May 15, 1970, Father & Son alongside the putting green at La Gorce Country Club

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