How Fast is Too Fast?

Recently the United States Golf Association launched a number of major changes to the 2019 Rules of Golf. One of these new edicts comes under the heading: When to Play During a Round. The Association says that rounds of golf are taking too long and slow play detracts from the golf experience.  Five-hour rounds, they say, are “incompatible with modern life.”

I understand that pace of play is important in golf and it’s frustrating when the person ahead isn’t ready to play their shot when it’s their turn.  But do we really need New Rule 5.6: which encourages prompt pace of play by recommending that: you play “ready golf” and make each stroke in no more than 40 seconds.

Playing golf is good exercise. It can improve your fitness and strength, and it can help you lose weight and body fat.  Playing golf can make you feel good because you connect with other people during the game and it can reduce your stress levels (as long as you don’t get completely engrossed in the score.)  The five hours or so people spend on their favorite course is a nice way to wind down from a challenging week.  There is fresh air to breathe, sunshine to enjoy, wind in your hair, and meditative moments while you focus your attention on your little white ball.

We are harried and stressed humans.  There are never enough hours in the day to do all the things we know we should do.  We don’t sleep enough, eat well enough, exercise enough, or spend enough quality time with our kids. We have significant demands from our jobs and huge pressure to make ends meet, raise our children and care for our aging parents. Our lives are governed by tight deadlines, constant availability and crushing workloads.  As Americans, we are a “No Vacation Nation” (according to CNN).  A typical U.S. worker gets two or three weeks “off” per year while a typical German worker gets six weeks of paid vacation plus national holidays every year.

We live in extraordinary times.  Technology has streamlined our lives making us routinized, mechanized and efficient modern humans.  Never before have we experienced such rapid change in our world.  We don’t need more knowledge or faster computers, more scientific analyses or a “dynamic play” golf model that contours the game for us.  We need to slow down and reconnect with ourselves every once in a while.  And, if we can achieve this by chasing our golf ball around the golf course and taking sufficient time to read our putt, and record our score, then so be it.

Rather than launching a major initiative for playing “ready golf” and for making each stroke in no more than 40 seconds, I suggest that we start a movement for “appreciating golf.” Some visible features of truly appreciating the great game of golf would look something like this.  When the guy ahead of you is taking his time to set up his shot, you step back and enjoy the delightful surroundings.  When the woman on the next hole is marking her score card, you close your eyes, breathe in the fresh air, and feel gratitude for the lovely day. When the 14-year-old in the group ahead dallies, you enjoy the shade under a beautiful tree and commune with the crickets and squirrels.  The art of appreciation is seriously lacking in our world today.  It isn’t about keeping a certain pace or even about slowing down.  It’s about breaking out of the rhythm of our fast-paced world every once in a while in order to maintain our sanity.

We have to learn to control the rhythms in our lives and determine our own tempos even when we are playing golf.  We can’t rely on golf course owners, architects, or the U.S.G.A. to do it for us.  If we don’t learn the important skill of appreciating the things in life we enjoy the most, we won’t survive the constant barrage of the world today.  While the world keeps getting faster and faster, we’ll become more unconscious, more stressed, more unhealthy and more easily bothered than we already are.

 

 

 

 

 

1979 U.S. Open

One of the main ingredients that go into determining the national championship of any sport, whether it be golf, tennis, football or baseball, is the competition must be played over suitable ground, appropriately prepared. No one would consider scheduling the World Series in a rock-strewn vacant lot where the outcome could be determined by the erratic bounce of a ground-ball.

By any measure, those standards were met 37 years ago when I played in our country’s national championship at Inverness Club in Toledo, Ohio. Except for four new holes, created by George and Tom Fazio about a year before the start of the tournament, the golf course at Inverness, which was the Open site for the fourth time in 1979, is much the same as it was for its first Open in 1920, when the winner was Ted Ray, an Englishman.

Inverness is essentially a Donald Ross design, featuring small greens and tight fairways, beautifully blended into the general terrain. In addition to being undersized, the greens are terrifyingly fast, and they are filled with unobtrusive rolls that make every shot an adventure. As an example, during the tournament’s second round, my approach shot finished over the back of the green on the par-4 fifth hole. For my third shot, I had a delicate down-hill pitch shot of about 50 feet. In front of several hundred spectators, I really mishit that little pitch but, stood there to watch it roll gently down the slope and finish about a foot from the cup. Then, at that point, I found myself sheepishly acknowledging the cheers of the crowd which, of course, are ordinarily given to a fine shot.

Back in the late-70s, I had been playing in quite a few professional tournaments around the country. I’m certain that all those competitive rounds helped prepare me for the two arduous 36-hole qualifying rounds that were required to get into the national championship. Once I made the Open field, I realized that I’d be playing in-front of a heckuva lot of people. So I thought, if I could play a practice round with Jack Nicklaus, it would go a long way in getting me acquainted with such a grand stage. I called his office in North Palm Beach, and left word there of my request. A short time later, I received word back that Jack would play a practice round with me at approximately 10:00 a.m. on Tuesday morning of that week. And, that he and I would be playing in a $10 Nassau against Andy Bean and J.C. Snead.

That day, the weather was warm and pleasant. Our group drew a huge gallery. I was living a dream, playing in the U.S. Open and in my home state no less. My teammate was none other than Jack Nicklaus, one of Ohio’s favorite sons. I was dressed in my finest outfit. However, it was one that my partner apparently didn’t fancy.

The round started out well enough. Or, at least, it seemed to anyhow. Then, on the fourth hole, after we had all hit our drives and were walking off the tee, Nicklaus says, in his distinctive voice, “Dick, I didn’t like pleated pants back in the ‘50’s, and I don’t like them now.” I was caught dumbfounded. What would have been a response to a statement like that? Hey, those pants were my favorites. And, besides that, I thought we were partners?

Later, that evening at dinner, I told my parents what Jack had said. First, I looked at Dad for his reaction. He just shrugged his shoulders and said, “Dickie, you know Jack.” Then, my mother asked me, “Well, what did you say to Jack after he said that?” I glanced at Mom and, meekly, offered that I neglected to say anything. She gave me a stern look and told me that I “should have told Jack that fat boys didn’t look good in pleated pants back in the fifties, and they still don’t!” Had I uttered those words to the Golden Bear, he and I would have had a wrestling match on the fourth tee at the U.S. Open!

Where We Are and How We Got Here

In any of life’s activities, you can do a better job with today and tomorrow if you understand a little bit about yesterday. Trying to play better golf is no different. Whether you are a PGA Tour player, a club professional or an amateur, it is to your advantage to have, at least, a basic grasp of the game’s history.

Most anyone, who understands the difference between a driver and a putter, knows somewhat about the mystery surrounding the origins of the game. Earliest accounts tell us that golf may have begun in ancient Rome with the soldiers. Whereas, other explanations list its roots in Holland with the Lowlanders or, quite possibly in Scotland with the shepherds. For all practical purposes, it matters very little where the game actually got started. What does matter, however, are certain key factors in the game’s more recent history because of their effect on your learning to be a better golfer.

During the 15th century when golf became a national obsession with the Scots, it slowly began to develop into a very similar game to the one in which we are playing today. Throughout that development there have been multiple changes in the equipment used, the course on which the game is played, and even in the people who play it. These various evolutions have resulted in modifications being made in the actual golf swing and the game, itself. I’d like to share with you some of the main advancements that have taken place, over the years, to help you understand why it’s best to approach the golf swing and the entire game in a more basic and fundamental way.

Part I. Equipment

Although, historians tell us that the French played a game with an iron-faced club and a round (more or less) wooden ball during the 15th century, the Scotch game was played with all wooden clubs and balls.

Scotch bowyers, when they weren’t making bows and arrows, began to make golf clubs mostly out of blackthorn wood. For hundreds of years, golf clubs were made out of wood, and it was not until late last century that the hickory shaft was replaced by other materials.

Historically, the club head of a wood was made from persimmon although some manufacturers—notably Ping—developed laminated woods in the early 1970s. Then, in 1979, TaylorMade Golf introduced the first metal wood made of steel and, as a result, persimmon drivers began disappearing overnight.

In the late 1920s, hickory shafts began being replaced by steel shafts. Though, the new shaft was a considerable bonus for the player. It was anything but profitable for the club maker. When my uncle Dick was a young assistant pro in 1923, he could earn $100 a month repairing clubs, primarily because the hickory shafts would bow and snap quite easily. In the 1930s, though, club repairs scarcely totaled that much in a year once the wood shafts were pretty much gone.

By 1938, the steel shaft was so prevalent that the United States Golf Association (USGA) were compelled to decree a new rule limiting a player to fourteen clubs. That rule was enacted primarily because golfers didn’t have to worry about shafts breaking during a round anymore. The new limit was a smart one. Famed course architect Donald Ross had been a prominent critic of the policy that allowed an unlimited number of clubs, contending that “if a golfer gets the notion the more clubs he carries, the better he is going to play, there never would be a limit. In due time, pack mules would have replaced caddies. As it was, the caddies of the nation were all getting humpbacked, staggering along under freight car loads.”

The golf ball, as well, was changing during those earliest days. By the 17th century, golfers had rejected wooden balls and turned to a ball that would travel farther, the “featherie.” As you can see, the one thing that seems never to change is the fact that golfers are always looking for new equipment to help them out! But, the featherie ball, with its leather hide and feather stuffing was a real improvement. Tradition has it that the amount of feathers necessary to fill a ball was a top hat full. Then, these feathers were wet down and stuffed in the cow hide which was then stitched up. Once the feathers dried out, the ball was very hard with the hide stretched tight.

During this time, it shouldn’t surprise you that the frugal Scots started spending a lot of time looking for these balls when they hit them off line. In today’s dollars, you would have to pay from $10 to $20 for each ball you owned! Whereas the wooden balls had been fairly cheap to produce, the featherie was very expensive. So, the authorities of the day were forced to make a rule limiting the amount of time that could be spent looking for a ball. And, that rule still exists today!

In the middle of the 19th century, the first rubber ball, the gutta-percha, was introduced. Not only was this ball less expensive than the featherie but, it also carried a longer distance. Its only drawback was that it did not necessarily fly straight. The flight of the “gutty” was totally unpredictable and erratic until it was dented and nicked up a bit. So, golfers began banging dents and “dimples” into their brand new balls. Modern day research in aerodynamics has proven what these early golfers suspected – that uneven surfaces do affect the flight of the ball. Today, golf ball manufacturers are always trying to determine the best pattern and right number of dimples that produces the truest and best ball flight.

A truly revolutionary event in golf took place at the turn of the century with the introduction of the Haskell rubber-cored ball. It was the first ball made with uneven surfaces but, without dimples. Patented on April 11, 1899, the Haskell ball had a rubber center which was wound with rubber string. In addition, the rubber cover had geometric lines and markings to produce lift and truer flight. Besides being a golf ball that began resembling the type in which we play with today, the Haskell came with a relatively small price tag.

Part II. Course

Through the ages, as better golf clubs and balls evolved, the equilibrium of golf courses was affected. So, they had to be modified and improved to continue the challenge. Those first Scottish “courses” were usually nothing more than publicly owned linksland. Linksland is that land formed along the estuaries of rivers where there is rich soil deposited along the sand dunes and hollows along the beach.

In those earliest days, the first course architect was Mother Nature and rabbits were the green-keepers. The land itself was a task with its scrubby gorse on the dunes, its pits of beach sand where animal burrows had caved in, and its closely grazed areas of pasture. Also, ever changing sea breezes provided yet another consideration for those early golfers. Originally, no specific holes were laid out. Golfers would just hit out, maybe to a rabbit hole agreed upon by the players themselves and then, they would hit back in to another hole somewhere.

As the game became more popular in Scotland, actual “courses” of play were formed. The Old Course at St. Andrews is generally considered to be the oldest golf course in Scotland. Records indicate its existence as early as 1414. The course design at St. Andrews evolved in the shape of a shepherd’s staff or crook. And, interestingly enough, it started out as a 22-hole course. There were 12 different large putting surfaces, ten of which were used twice during a round. Because the golfers had to designate whether they were playing “out” to the sea or “in” to the land, the game inherited two of its modern-day terms: “out” referring to the first nine holes of play and “in” referring to the second nine holes of play in an 18-hole round.

The Old Course at St. Andrews remained a 22-hole course until sometime in the late 18th century when the Society of St. Andrews Golfers decided to combine the first four holes into two holes. Now, since the same greens were played both going out and coming in, this reduced the round to 18 holes. And, even though this occurrence seems to be the facts, a lot of people still find it more enjoyable to believe that those early golfers simply quit playing in the raw Scottish gales when the 18 jiggers of Scotch found in a bottle were all consumed!

In due time, the facility at St. Andrews became recognized as the official home of golf and known as The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews. And, because St. Andrews had 18 holes, all golf courses were ultimately designed with 18 holes. Also, traditionalists thought it improper to call just any area for golf a “links” unless it was actually built on linksland. So, after a while, the term “golfing course” and eventually, “golf course” was used to refer to those other areas.

Before the end of the 19th century, golf had established itself in nearby England and France. And, it was being advanced as far away as India, Hong Kong and South Africa. Also, the game had come to the new world with a golf “club” being founded in Charleston, South Carolina in 1786. For sure, as the game scattered all over the globe, golf courses were going to be different from each other, according to the geography and climate of the area.

All sorts of modifications were being made to golf courses (even, to those already in existence) during this time. The arrival of the gutta-percha ball made it possible for club makers to use iron heads on their implements. So, golfers began to take larger divots and dig up more turf with their shots. Once the heather was removed, it often did not grow back. Instead, bent grass which is common to linksland, grew up in its place and fairways of shorter grass were born. Whereas, there had always been limited amounts of this type of shorter grass, now these areas became wider.

In the 1840s, Allan Robertson, who is generally thought to be the first golf course designer, began planning courses rather than just letting them materialize on their own. Robertson was the head professional at St. Andrews and widely regarded as the finest player, teacher and club maker in Scotland. So, it would only seem logical that he would know best how to lay out a course.

Throughout this period, most courses were designed by professionals or green- keepers. These men would simply travel to a proposed area, spend a few days there and choose some natural locations for tees and greens. Then, they would arrange the course around them. About the only consideration given to construction or maintenance was to make sure there would be enough sand available to top-dress the greens.

As the game’s popularity steadily increased, these early course architects stayed busy not only designing new courses but also redesigning other courses to make them 18 holes. One of them, the illustrious Old Tom Morris developed a unique pattern for the 18 holes. In 1891 his golf course at Muirfield, Scotland opened with two nine-hole loops, each one starting and ending at the clubhouse. This configuration, still very much in existence today, allows for a well-situated round of only 9 holes when we choose to do so.

Needless to say, golf courses continued to be affected by other changes and innovations. In the 1850s, specific equipment for cutting a putting hole came into use and, a few years later, metal cups were being sunk into the holes. Irrigation of putting greens dates back to the 1880s. And, the lawn mower, invented in 1830, finally makes it to some golf courses by the last half of the century.

As constant improvements in course design and maintenance continued to be made in Scotland, there were golf “clubs” in the United States at this time, where those upgrades and innovations weren’t being employed at all. Though, golf “clubs” had been established in South Carolina and Georgia in the 1700s, the members apparently had no golf courses on which to play! Only an avid golfer could appreciate the love of the game those Scotch and English settlers had to have in order to form a club with no golf course. What’s more, in the 1980s, a golf club that attracted over 300 members, was established in Juneau, Alaska. The only drawback to membership was that the closest actual golf courses were located several hundred miles away in Canada.

In the United States, the first verified playing course for golf was a three-hole layout in Yonkers, New York, which was designed in 1888 by a Scottish immigrant, John Reid. Eventually, Reid and his playing buddies expanded their course to six holes and boldly named it the St. Andrews Golf Club. And, though, there’s good reason to believe that Reid’s Yonkers layout is the original course in America. There are courses in Pennsylvania, Vermont, Iowa, West Virginia, Florida, Illinois and even, Nebraska that claim to have been in existence sometime before 1888. The fact is, that no matter where golf actually got started in this country, once it did begin, the game really spread. By 1896 there were over 80 courses open for play. And, by 1900 there were nearly 1000!

About 1890, a Scottish professional by the name of Willie Dunn, or “Young Willie” as he was called, so as not to confuse him with his father, was brought to the United States to design a golf course. His arrival in this country is the first evidence that we have of a qualified course designer being employed. In 1891, Dunn designed and built Shinnecock Hills, a celebrated course located on Long Island in New York. Although his equipment was poor and his help was totally inexperienced in building golf courses, Young Willie constructed a course which was second to none in this country.

Willie Dunn is important to us, not only because he built such an outstanding course, but also because on his return to Scotland, he circulated the word to other Scottish professionals about the exciting and lucrative opportunities in golf which could be found in the United States. Apparently, Dunn was mighty convincing at spreading that gospel because a tremendous influx of his countrymen immigrated to this country. Some of these turn-of-the-century Scotsmen were fine players who became Touring pros and PGA club professionals. While others found employment as green- keepers, club makers or course designers. And, of course, some of these fellows were only interested in the game itself and making a fresh start in the new world.

Part III.

People and the Evolving Golf Swing

Today, people are taller (and fatter) than ever before. The increase in size can be attributed, most likely, to improved nutrition, health services, hygiene (and fast food joints). During the last 100 years, alone, males have grown 1.5 inches taller and now average close to 5’10”.  Females, throughout that same interval, have grown about .5 inch taller and now average 5’4”. However, studies indicate that over a century ago when these Scottish professionals began entering the U.S., their average height was about 5’6’’. Scotsman “Wee Bobby” Cruickshank was only about 5’2’’ and Italian-American Gene Sarazen was 5’5’’.

In those days, people in general, were just shorter and therefore they were built closer to the ground. These physical characteristics had an impact on how the game was being played. The look of the swing was different back then, as well. Whereas you see the players of today take the club back on the target line and into a fairly upright position, players like Bobby Jones, Walter Hagen and Gene Sarazen took the club more quickly inside the target line. This results in the club being swung up and around, with it finishing not as much over the shoulders. Since the heel came pretty high off the ground and the club was often dragged back with the hands in a long sweeping motion, their swings looked flatter. And, because the downswing and follow-through had more of an early hip turn and less leg drive, they looked like they sort of slapped the club through the ball.

Another real difference between the players’ swings back then and what we see now takes place in the pre-shot routine. The set-up and aiming procedure used by the early Scots and British was done so as to curve the ball from right to left. That is, they purposely aimed out to the right, often with either a closed or open stance and played the ball low and hooking to keep it below the high winds usually found on links courses. An added advantage to that low rolling ball was that the fairways were not routinely irrigated the way they are now. So, a golfer could get a lot of extra yardage from the roll.

In those days, golfers used hickory shafts. The U.S.G.A. approved of steel shafts in 1925 but a lot of companies still offered clubs in either steel or hickory shafts throughout the 1930s. Hickory shafted clubs tended to turn and torque during the swing. So, the hands were used much more in the swing because feel, rhythm and timing were terrifically important in using these clubs.

Because it was essential to feel the shaft and possess a sense of awareness of the club head, how the golfer placed his hands on the club was different, too. The wrists had to be loose and free for greater movement so the club was held a bit more up into the fingers of the left hand. Both hands were turned over to the right quite a bit more than what’s common today. With this grip, at the top of the backswing, the left wrist would be more bent and in a cupped position.

But, as you might expect, there was more. Even, the manner of dress at that time had an influence on how the golf club was being swung. Restrictive clothing remained in fashion even on the golf course. And, the proper attire was anything but comfortable to swing in! As late as 1931, when my father began playing the PGA Tour, the look called for fellows to wear dress shirts and ties while competing. And, ladies wore long, long skirts and full blouses and sweaters.

In all probability, though, the biggest factor that affected the way people swung the club and played the game was that most everyone was self-taught. The early part of the 20th century in America witnessed many new golf courses and a lot more golfers. But, there weren’t enough teachers and professionals who actually knew much of anything about the mechanics of the game. As a result, thousands of people learned about golf their own way.

Keep in mind, there wasn’t a lot of communication nationwide. There weren’t any movies or television to show them how the great players did it from week to week. There were a few books that specialized in studying the golf swing. But mostly, it seemed that golf instruction was just a jumble of theory and conjecture. As a consequence, even the golf swings of the better playing professionals were rather unorthodox by today’s standards. But, – this is important – those quirky swings did have a heckuva knack for getting the ball in the hole!

Great champions such as Jones, Hagen and Sarazen were all more or less self-taught. The only exception from that era was Tommy Armour. Before immigrating to America from Scotland in 1920, Armour had taken over 900 lessons from different English professionals, most notably from the illustrious George Duncan.

Therefore, given the conditions that “there was nobody around who knew much.” And, those few teachers of the game who might have known a little bit were situated across the pond in the British Isles. So, it isn’t surprising at all that the professional player’s swing of yesterday doesn’t resemble the Tour player’s swing of today. Summing it up, then, a golf swing mastered by a short player in a starched shirt, tie and suit coat, sometimes playing on a wind-swept links course with hard fairways and small greens, had to look pretty extraordinary!

The fact of the matter is, though, that back then as now, basic fundamental skills produce a repeatable efficient position at the moment of truth … when the club head meets the ball. Any golfer of any era, who was or is successful, has had that same good position at impact. Which is: hands leading club head; club face square to the target; swing accelerating through the ball; and, head behind the ball.

And, another fact of the matter is that, then as now, the secret to becoming a good golfer is knowing what to do and then, spending the time to practice so that you become skilled at it. Through research, mass communication and by taking periodic lessons from a knowledgeable instructor, everyone can learn the basic fundamentals that go into making a sound, efficient golf swing.

Without a doubt, though, talent makes a difference. That’s what the Good Lord bestows upon us. But technique, now that’s what we can learn. And, technique can make up for a lack of talent. You may have a lot of talent or a little, but by becoming proficient at the fundamentals of a sound swing, you can surely improve your play. And, no matter if you’re short or tall, young or old, you’ll be able to find certain players on television and on DVD’s who fit your body type and age category. And, if you look close enough, you’ll notice some individual differences, but not so many as existed 100 years ago.

Part IV. Conclusion

Today, there are a total of 9,700 golf courses affiliated with the U.S.G.A. It’s obvious that the pursuit of higher, longer and straighter will never end. As the twentieth century came to a close, the entire face of golf changed drastically with the advent of new technologies. We’re bombarded with advertisements for new types of golf shoes, clubs and hundreds of other golf accessories. The level of scientific research into something as simple as a golf ball can be mind-boggling. With new materials and computer engineering, improvements are being made on golf equipment and fashion trends faster than marketers can publicize them.

As a final point, if golf were merely a game about technology, we’d be set. It’s not quite that simple. Technology will never be a substitute for skill. The fact is, all the equipment in the world can’t change the fundamentals of the game.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The One That Almost Got Away

Seventy-five years ago, when my parents first got to know each other and, eventually, began making plans to become husband and wife, there were no such conveniences as cell phones, email and the other forms of electronic communication like Facebook, Twitter and Google+. When they were away from each other (which, during their courtship, was quite often), they developed and maintained their relationship the same way soldiers in the 1940s kept in touch with their wives and girlfriends back home. Their conversing was done the old fashioned way with a set of very basic tools: pen, paper and ink. Thus, Mom and Dad’s long-distance romance was built on letters.

Over a period of time, lasting twenty-plus months, a virtual rainstorm of mail passed between the two of them. Thankfully for our family, my mother saved all of the 113 letters, which she received from my father. Unfortunately, (if only for the sake of posterity), Dad destroyed all of hers because he felt they should be kept private. Anyhow, their scores of letters formed the foundation for their courtship and a marriage of more than forty-six years. Plus, as an additional benefit, I was able to collect valuable information from his correspondence, which we made use of in my book about Dad’s life: “Jack Grout, A Legacy in Golf.”

From my father’s letters, it was evident that he wasn’t inclined to talk about himself. Even as a young man, Dad was modest and unassuming. Consequently, when I read the following passage (in a letter to my mother written on stationery from the Hotel Knickerbocker in New York and dated September 23, 1941), “…we played in a one-day tournament yesterday which I won,” it came as no surprise to me that I had not ever heard my father speak of this accomplishment of his. It did, however, bewilder and exasperate me that, no matter how much I researched it, I could not gain any knowledge, whatsoever, about this particular tournament.

That was the case, until recently, when I received a phone call from Jeff Silverman, author and contributing writer at Golf World magazine. Jeff let me know that he was in the process of compiling the Centennial book (1916-2016) for Gulph Mills Golf Club, an exclusive country club located near Philadelphia, PA. And, he wondered if, by chance I might know anything about a one-day tournament held in the autumn of 1941 that Jack Grout won. Eureka! Once he told me what he knew, I combined that with what little I knew. And, “now (after reading the enclosed articles) you know the rest of the story.”

 GM 25th Anniversary Pro-Am

Gulph Mills

Hoss and Little Joe

Golf is a two-handed game, but each has a different function. Your right arm is your power arm. That’s the arm and hand you hit with. My father called it Hoss. And, it’s pivotal role is performed through impact. Your left arm is your directional arm; the guide. That arm and hand keeps the club on path so that the face will come into the ball squarely on swing after swing. Dad referred to it as Little Joe.

The right hand cannot dominate the swing anymore than the left; they must be balanced and work together in harmony. If you hit too quickly with your right arm and hand, you hook the ball. If you don’t hit it quickly enough, you slice the ball. There’s no specific place in the downswing where you release the club and hit the ball. You find that place from a sense of feel. It’s practice. Play and practice helps you develop a sense of feel.

To help give you this feeling of balance, I suggest that you first tee up a few balls. Now, grip a 7- or 8-iron in your right hand only, and place your left hand either in your pocket or behind your back. Using only your right hand, swing the club with the intent of striking the balls you have placed on the tees. Then, repeat this process using only your left hand.

Note: When using your subordinate (less-dominant) arm and hand, make an effort on the downswing to pull the butt of the club down toward the ball by simultaneously rotating the left hip toward the target while transferring or pressuring body weight onto the left foot and leg. Do not expect too much in the beginning, but keep working with it. Before long, this practice will not only increase your awareness as to how both hands do indeed work together, it will also add to your understanding of golf being a truly two-handed game.

The Ultimate Strokesaver

There’s an old saying: “A good player who is a great putter is a match for any golfer.” My father had a beautiful putting stroke resulting from sound technique but, at his best, he could only be described [by PGA Tour standards] as being a marginal putter. His eyesight was what failed him. Dad was extremely nearsighted. He had a devil of a time seeing the tiny subtle breaks that were in his line. Other difficulties which he encountered included getting his eyes back in focus after looking at the ball and then at the target.

A golfer has to be able to read greens and control the speed of the putt. No matter how much time dad spent practicing on his mechanics his poor vision made his “read” suspect so his line and speed didn’t match up. Back in those days, my father was virtually the only player on Tour who wore eye glasses while he played. Has there ever been a great putter with poor vision? I, for one, don’t think so.

Additionally, throughout the 1930’s-1940’s-1950’s, the condition of the greens the pros played from city to city was also very rough and inconsistent. Prospects for improving your technique weren’t very good either because it just wasn’t “fashionable” to practice your putting in those days. The prevailing attitude was that there was no set way to do it. Truth is, even in those days it was “sexier” to have a good-looking swing. And, furthermore, it can be argued that better ball-striking has always been the quickest way to improvement.

All of this is to illustrate that my father’s putting philosophy and technique derived from his own playing experiences while growing up on hard pan Oklahoma and Texas municipal courses and also competing on the bumpy, less manicured greens of the early PGA Tour; when golf was a game and everything was done instinctively.

For the most part, dad’s approach to putting was fundamental and straightforward. For everyday players, who needed something simple and intuitive, it seemed ideal. Basically, a putting lesson with him lasted about fifteen to twenty minutes. He felt that the student ought to quit and take up something else if it took much longer than that.

When my father spoke about putting, he’d talk about rolling the ball. Dad’s students were advised to associate the palm of the right hand with the face of the putter. He always wanted them to be parallel to each other. When he’d demonstrate the correct putting stroke it looked as if he used mostly his right arm and hand to create the motion. Also, he advocated the release of the putter head by using the fingers in a closing action that rotated the right hand to the left.

As far as he was concerned, the right hand controlled the stroke. Dad wanted your left hand to just rest comfortably on the grip and to compliment the right hand. He wasn’t all that concerned with how you stood over the putt. He maintained that you should be balanced so that you feel comfortable.

He taught that putting is a hands and arms movement, mostly the arms. Focus on taking the putter back low. Then, forward with your hands ahead of the putter face and feeling like you’re coming up underneath the ball, so you impart over-spin on the ball. He didn’t want you to hit the putt. He wanted the head of the putter to swing; for the weight of the putter to create the motion.

He taught that you control the roll with topspin. He’d position you well behind the ball at address so you could hit up on it with a hooking motion, like a topspin forehand in ping pong. The putter went from low to high through impact with the toe closing.

Bobby Jones, Bobby Locke, Arnold Palmer, Ben Crenshaw and Dave Stockton were all great putters who talked of hooking their putts or trying to put topspin on the ball. Most great putters were also die putters, meaning that the hole has side doors if the ball is rolling slowly enough. Try that, and you’ll reduce your three-putts and make some big ones, too.

Often, my father told me that putting was all about gauging the proper distance. He knew that most golfers were poor at judging speed and, especially so, on long putts. His diagnosis was that they think about it too much and get too mechanical. Dad wanted you to study your break line, walk up to the ball and make a good stroke. As far as he was concerned, it all revolved around confidence: And, confidence is developed through practice and practical experience.

Hit It Long and High

A genuine golf practitioner, Jack Grout made up his mind early-on to learn not only the intricacies of swing technique, but also why a certain type of swing action seemed to work better than another. His PGA Tour-playing days – where he competed and conversed with almost two dozen future members of the World Golf Hall of Fame – plus, the countless hours he spent in the company of other great teachers like Jack Burke Sr., Alex Morrison and Henry Picard, convinced him that good fundamentals allow you to better coordinate the movement of the body with the movement of the club.

“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 proven to be integral to the swing.” Jack Grout

Nevertheless, by 1950, Dad was having second thoughts, or better yet, his own thoughts, regarding certain aspects of his golf mentors’ teaching approaches. Unlike his fellow teachers, my father believed that a novice golfer should learn to swing hard initially and then acquire accuracy later. He was sure that a golfer who gets too accuracy-conscious at the outset will rarely be able to hit the ball hard later on.

This unique philosophy literally played right into the hands of young Jack Nicklaus. Once “Jackie boy” gripped a golf club, it was pure joy for my father to watch his star student wind up like a giant spring on the backswing, then swing the club down and hit the ball as hard and as far as possible.

“If I outdrive you 50 yards I’m going to beat you, or at least discourage you.” Jack Grout

A long hit requires a big swing. A big swing consists of maximum body coiling and arm extension. These movements produce a high, full arc. A full arc is most easily achieved with an upright swing. The fuller the arc, the higher a golfer will fly the ball. Dad regarded height with the long, less lofted clubs as the second most important weapon, after distance, in a golfer’s arsenal.

Developing as full an arc as possible during the golf swing is the most difficult and the most significant fundamental to achieve. Producing the widest possible arc is hard because it requires a substantial amount of stretching and extending. The pressure and actual muscular work involved, isn’t what most golfers are willing to experience.

“When I was younger, one of my key backswing thoughts was to extend my arms and turn my shoulders until it almost hurt. I learned to extend and turn until starting the downswing became an involuntary reflex. That set the stage for a very wide and powerful swing.” Jack Nicklaus

Achieving the widest possible arc is important because it increases leverage which, in turn, generates a high degree of club head speed and velocity. Swinging the club with speed creates distance and the fact, is, the golfer who can hit the ball the farthest has a distinct advantage.

Photos showing 13-year-old Jack Nicklaus swinging-for-the-fences.  Dad said, "he was a little kid who just wanted to fire that sucker.  He had the instinct."

Photos showing 13-year-old Jack Nicklaus swinging-for-the-fences. Dad said, “he was a little kid who just wanted to fire that sucker. He had the instinct.”

Swing It Steep and Deep

 “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.” Jack Grout

Being familiar with Jack Nicklaus since the age of ten, my father was well aware of his strength, flexibility and proclivity for bashing a golf ball. With this in mind, Dad prescribed a seemingly radical move for his protégé. He encouraged Jack to allow his right arm to move away from his right side and to not let his right elbow fold early during the backswing.

“Your right elbow must move away from your side on the backswing if you are going to achieve full power.” Jack Grout

Besides producing additional leverage and speed in the swing, Dad knew that this move helped a golfer to keep the clubface square for a longer time through impact. As a result, Jack was able to play the ball up in his stance without worrying about the clubface turning over and producing a hook. And, the more forward you play the ball in your stance, the higher you’re going to hit it.

My father believed passionately in the high-flying, soft-landing fade as the ultimate scoring shot. This was especially so for an aggressive swinger and long hitter like Jack Nicklaus. During their days together at Scioto Country Club, where the rough was often long and lush, it was inevitable that young Nicklaus would spend a good deal of time in it. Thus, it was highly advantageous for Dad’s star pupil to have a wide, powerful and upright swing that would enable him to bulldoze the ball from tall, wet grass.

From my father’s perspective, this type of swing action was the perfect recipe for holding the firm, fast greens typical of U.S. Open venues and Augusta National. And, regarding the less-supportive observations being made about Jack’s so-called “flying right elbow,” my father’s response was, “Oh yes, I heard some of the criticism. But, I didn’t try to change it. That’s the way I think you should play.” Basically, by refusing to listen to the leading analysts of the day, Dad helped Nicklaus forge a swing that was born to win majors!

Eventually, though, father-time catches up with all of us. Nicklaus would reach his fortieth birthday in 1980, the age when most professional golfers begin to see their games deteriorating as they lose their youthful flexibility, strength and focus. As it related to his golf swing, Nicklaus heard his old coach say: “You have let yourself get way too upright. You are high, which is good. But, you have lost your depth, which is very bad. If you don’t do something about that, your career will be a lot shorter than either of us would like it to be.”

Golf’s greatest champion had gotten himself into a top-of-backswing position that remained steep, but had gotten less and less deep. In any case, Nicklaus found it nearly impossible to draw the ball from right-to-left. And, if the ball did go left, it resembled more of a pull-hook. He was swinging down at too steep an angle, and when that’s done a golfer can’t transfer 100 percent of their power to the ball.

Working intensively with Dad on a much needed and long overdue swing change, Jack got his hands into a deeper (more inside) position on the backswing by turning his shoulders more and tilting them less and by swinging his arms on a shallower plane. This allowed him to deliver the club from inside the target line. When you swing down from the inside, it’s nearly impossible to release too soon.

Conversely, it’s almost impossible to release the club fully if it’s cutting across the target line, from out to in. That causes you to instinctively hold back your arms and hands to keep your shots from going left — a blocking type of release that usually results in a weak pull-slice. A full release of the club results when your right arm crosses over your left through impact with the clubface turning down. A deeper backswing allows you to swing the club more around. It’s an adjustment that can be made to better control your golf shots.

Most players are taught to fold the right elbow early in the backswing (in the style or manner of Ben Hogan). Certainly this is a reliable way to get the club to the top. But it often results in an “open” clubface position caused by a slight concave kink in the left wrist. And, for amateurs beset by accuracy issues, folding the right elbow can exacerbate their slice.

Swinging on an upright plane or in a flatter plane is mostly a matter of personal preference. Both positions work well and often its body type and flexibility that are the determining factors. In the less upright swing, the right elbow doesn’t “leave” the right side, but is kept “close” to the body. Keeping the elbow tucked-in, against the right side, forces the left arm and shoulder around in a flatter plane.

Note: My thanks to World Golf Hall of Fame member Johnny Miller for some information that was used in this article.

Photo taken in January, 1980 at Frenchmen’s Creek Golf Club in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida: Nicklaus’ swing had gotten too upright (red arrow). Intensive work was done to flatten and deepen it, promoting a shallower downswing path (yellow).

Photo taken in January, 1980 at Frenchmen’s Creek Golf Club in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida: Nicklaus’ swing had gotten too upright (red arrow). Intensive work was done to flatten and deepen it, promoting a shallower downswing path (yellow).

GOLF LEGEND JACK GROUT TO BE INDUCTED INTO THE WORLD GOLF TEACHERS HALL OF FAME

Wolf Golf Teachers Hall of Fame Inductees
Dick Grout, Chuck Cook, Jim McLean, Mike Adams, Jim Hardy, Butch Harmon, pose for a photo at the Hall of Fame Member Recognition during the 14th PGA Teaching and Coaching Summit held at the Orange County Convention Center on January 18, 2015 in Orlando, Florida. (Photo by Montana Pritchard/The PGA of America)
Credit: Montana Pritchard

Ceremony was held January 18 in the Chapin Theatre at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Florida as a Part of a Special Reception Honoring
Golf Magazine’s Top 100 Teachers
 
Jack Grout – known worldwide as the man who taught Jack Nicklaus how to play the game and was his instructor and mentor for four decades – was honored as one of six new selectees for induction into the World Golf Teachers Hall of Fame. Mr. Grout, who died in 1989, joins an elite class of the game’s greatest teachers elected by Golf Magazine’s Top 100 Teachers and a panel of golf historians and journalists. Other teachers, who will be formally inducted into the Hall this October in New York City, include: Butch Harmon, Jim McLean, Mike Adams, Chuck Cook and Jim Hardy. 
Jack Grout had a lengthy career in golf, giving lessons when he was only 15 years old, becoming a club head pro at 17, and traveling the PGA Tour for decades (and winning four tournaments) alongside Ben Hogan, Sam Snead, Byron Nelson and other famed players. He eventually served as head professional at a series of excellent golf clubs, including Scioto Country Club in Columbus, Ohio; La Gorce in Miami Beach, Florida, and Harrisburg and Hershey Country Clubs in Pennsylvania. He finished his career as teaching pro emeritus at The Loxahatchee Club in Jupiter, Florida and Muirfield Village Golf Club in Dublin, Ohio . 
While known widely as Jack Nicklaus’ career-long teacher, Mr. Grout also coached Raymond Floyd to three major championships and worked with major-title winners Lanny Wadkins and David Graham, plus additional players on the PGA and LPGA Tours. He also taught golf to athletes ranging from baseball’s Joe DiMaggio to horse racing’s Eddie Arcaro, and entertainers including Andy Williams, Vic Damone and Sean Connery – the original 007, James Bond!
The World Golf Teachers Hall of Fame was founded in 1998 by GOLF MAGAZINE to ensure that the theories and philosophies of the game’s greatest instructors live on. Criteria for selection include unfailing dedication to students, knowledge shared with the teaching community, demonstrated professionalism and at least 25 years as a professional instructor. It is the only hall of fame of its kind; Jack Grout joins an exclusive group of teaching professionals which include Tommy Armour, Percy Boomer, Ernest Jones, Harvey Penick, Davis Love, Jr., Paul Runyan, John Jacobs, Bob Toski, Jim Flick, Peggy Kirk Bell, Manuel de la Torre and Bill Strausbaugh, Jr.

Check out the Photos section for more pictures from the announcement!

Statistical Rash Is Contagious

In the late 1980s, the PGA Tour began the Historical Statistics Project which was the process of examining the competitive records of nearly four thousand professional golfers from 1916 through 1988. The purpose of this analysis was to provide new perspectives for ranking these players from a historical standpoint. The underlying agreement being that overall long-time performance was the true standard and best common denominator – rather than money won – for ranking throughout the history of the Tour.

Because the early years of professional golf lacked continuity and a solid structure, it was open to conjecture about what were sanctioned tournaments, what didn’t meet “official” criteria and what were considered merely exhibitions. In the final assessment, the “blue ribbon” panel, a group that included golf administrators, journalists and a former Tour player, made their determination based on which events were of “historical significance” instead of deciding which events should be considered “official.” Decisive factors for determining a tournament’s “historical significance” were the following:

a. The history of the PGA Tour starts with the formation of the PGA of America in 1916.

b. Match play, team match play, and team stroke play are included in the study because

many such events were highly significant in various eras.

c. Round-by-round scores are included

d. The name of the course with par and yardage are included

Since the conclusion of their meeting at Augusta National Golf Club on April 5, 1989, the panel’s recommendations have been the criterion used by PGA Tour. The end result being that tournament wins have been credited to certain players while other players have had tournament wins snatched away from them. Take, for example, the unmatched record of the player known as “Slammin’ Sammy.”  No golfer has won more tournaments, although the actual total number is still disputed. The PGA Tour record book says Snead leads with 82 victories. But there is a crowd of people who contend that Snead should be credited with 90 victories.

Here’s what happened to Sam: Up through 1985, the PGA Tour listed Snead as having 84 titles. But in 1986, the Tour’s “blue ribbon” panel readjusted Snead’s total to 81. The number rose to 82 in 2002 when the Tour added his 1946 British Open title. Then, the review panel gave Snead credit for six wins that never had been included in his 84, including four Bing Crosby Pro-Ams. However, it also took away eight titles that had been listed in his original total. To say the least, Snead was livid over the Tour’s decision and carried the bitterness with him until he died in 2002 at 89.

Regrettably, for Jack Grout (my favorite Tour player of all time), two of his PGA Tour wins and one of his PGA Tour second-place finishes were completely erased from the record book. Those three tournaments were deemed to be unofficial events because at the time they weren’t considered to be “historically significant.” Even though, they were considered to be so in previous years. For example: When Dick Metz and his pro partner Gene Kunes were victorious in the 1935 Mid-South Four-Ball it was deemed an official win. However, three years later when Jack Grout and his pro partner Henry Picard were victorious in the 1938 Mid-South Four-Ball it wasn’t deemed as such.

Then, in August 1948, when there was every indication that an official PGA event was being held, Jack Grout outdistanced the whole pro pack at the $2,500 Spring Lake Invitational in New Jersey. My father’s final round of 67, not only overwhelmed Craig Wood (winner of 21 PGA Tour titles including two major championships) but, also the likes of Gene Sarazen, Claude Harmon, Mike Turnesa, and Willie Goggin, to name only a few.

Furthermore, when the potent combination of Henry Picard and his amateur partner Frank Ford won the 1937 St Augustine Professional-Amateur, with a 4 & 3 victory over Jimmy Hines and Mark Stuart, it was duly noted in the official record book. However, that is not the way things turned out in 1941 when Jack Grout and his amateur partner Frank Allan yielded 1-up in a spine tingling 36-hole duel to Sam Snead and Wilford Wehrle; in perhaps one of the greatest matches in the history of that event.