While Jack Nicklaus’ supreme talent is undeniable, he was also supremely fortunate to learn the game at Scioto Country Club in Columbus, Ohio -- and not just because the golf course was (and is) a championship-caliber classic. When the Golden Bear was just a cub, Scioto’s head pro was Jack Grout, whose guidance proved invaluable to Nicklaus throughout his incomparable career.
Unlike today’s tour pros, who change teachers as often as they switch caddies, Nicklaus never wavered in his devotion to Grout (though Nicklaus occasionally sought the advice of instructors like John Jacobs). The pair would convene at the beginning of every golf season for a ground-up evaluation of Nicklaus’ fundamentals, tweaking and fine-tuning as needed. On the rare occasions Nicklaus found himself struggling, Grout was the first person he called.
The concept of teacher and pro being in constant contact – a la Nick Faldo and David Leadbetter – was still years away. Even so, it’s unlikely Nicklaus and Grout would have followed that path; Grout believed each golfer was best served by relying on his own knowledge rather than having a coach at his beck and call, and that a thorough understanding of one’s swing was key to maximizing potential.
It’s hard to argue based on Nicklaus’ record.
It may seem that Grout was the lucky one in this relationship; after all, not many teachers get the chance to tutor the likes of Nicklaus. But Grout was well established in his profession long before he met the stocky prodigy.
Born in 1910, Grout took his first job as an 8-year-old caddie at Oklahoma City Country Club; by age 17 he was the pro at nearby Edgemere CC. In 1930 Grout’s older brother, Dick, became head pro at Glen Garden CC in Fort Worth, Tex., where a couple of teenagers named Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson were junior members. Jack Grout befriended and played often with the precocious pair, and eventually competed against them on the PGA Tour, which he played from 1931-45.
While Grout’s swing was considered one of the game’s best, he was plagued by a bad back and severe nearsightedness.
Ironically, Grout would later become famous for his keen eye.
Still on tour, Grout moved from Glen Garden to Pennsylvania’s Hershey CC in 1937. His three years there would prove pivotal. Hershey head pro Henry Picard was a standout player and an acolyte of controversial teacher Alex Morrison. Grout blended the theories of Picard and Morrison with his own and by 1950, when he was hired by Scioto, he held a firm command of swing dynamics.
Nicklaus, whose father Charlie introduced him to golf, was 10 years old when Grout arrived at Scioto. It didn’t take long for the two to hit it off – or for Grout to recognize Nicklaus’ remarkable abilities.
After guiding Nicklaus through his junior and amateur years – during which Nicklaus won the Ohio Open, a pair of U.S. Amateur titles and the NCAA Championship at Ohio State – Grout headed to Miami’s La Gorce CC in 1961. (Nicklaus turned pro the following year.) He would stay in South Florida the rest of his life, teaching at Frenchman’s Creek and Nicklaus’ own Loxahatchee Club, among others. He taught more famous pros, too, including Ray Floyd, Ben Crenshaw and Lanny Wadkins.
Grout’s easy-going manner, sharp observations and ability to simplify and communicate complex information made him one of golf’s most trusted teachers. Naturally, his connection to Nicklaus gave him a large measure of credibility, and in 1974 Grout authored a book called Let Me Teach You Golf as I Taught Jack Nicklaus.
Grout passed away in Tequesta, Fla., in 1989.
Famous students: Jack Nicklaus, Ray Floyd, Ben Crenshaw, Lanny Wadkins, Dow Finsterwald, Jim Colbert
Core philosophy: One need only watch Nicklaus to understand the fundamentals Grout emphasized.
Grout believed the golf swing should be firmly rooted in good footwork and stretch skyward as far as possible. He drilled Nicklaus on balance and proper rolling of the ankles – the left ankle rolling right on the backswing, the right ankle rolling left on the through-swing. Next he had Nicklaus develop a full shoulder turn while extending the left arm far away from the body to create maximum swing arc. “Reach for the sky” was Grout’s mantra.
It’s no coincidence that Nicklaus was perhaps the most powerful of all golf’s greats in relation to his peers.
Beyond the technical details, Grout wanted students to find their own way around the swing. “He would give you the bare bones of a basic, then encourage you to figure out the details for yourself,” Nicklaus explained in his book, My Story. “He did that, first, so that you would use what came most naturally to you in learning and mastering the fundamental and, second, so that you would learn and remember the cause-and-effect factors through feel, not words.
“Rather than direct, he would suggest and guide.”
And that, Nicklaus suggests, was the secret to Grout’s success. “Jack always wanted you to do it your way, the most natural way you could,” Nicklaus said, “which made him the polar opposite of all those pros who want you to do it their way, or to adopt some ‘method’ they believe they've invented for the salvation of golfers everywhere.”
Classic Grout-style tip: The idea of rolling the ankles isn’t heard much these days; perhaps it should be. Many golfers simply lift the left heel and knee on the backswing, then the right heel and knee on the through-swing. Unfortunately, this motion doesn’t promote a correct weight shift or hip rotation.
Basically, the left ankle (for right-handers) should roll or bend slightly inward as the hips turn and the left knee points toward the ball. It’s fine for the left heel to lift slightly off the ground, especially with longer clubs, as long as it’s accompanied by a rolling ankle. Problems arise when the heel goes straight up.
The right ankle should not roll on the backswing, but remain stable as weight is loaded onto the right leg. On the through-swing, the left ankle rolls slightly to the outside as the right ankle bends inward.
To ingrain this movement, stand with your feet close together and make a series of slow swings – without hitting a ball – while rolling the ankles as described. You can even practice this without a club by simply
swinging the arms.
It worked pretty well for Jack Nicklaus.