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Jack's Rules

The 8 basics Nicklaus played by, and why they'll work for you

How Jack's swing evolved

The late and great writer Peter Dobereiner contended that every golfer has a swing that stays with you for life, like a fingerprint. Once you develop that basic motion, it is distinctive to you and doesn't really change. Jack Nicklaus is an exception to that rule. His golf swing evolved, rather dramatically, over time.

True, the basic principles he learned from Jack Grout as a youngster, such as "reach for the sky," stayed with him throughout his career. But photographs of his muscular swing during his amateur and early professional years show a much different look from his classic swing that evolved as he grew older. That's because Jack's genius for making adjustments, as well as major swing changes, fed his competitive instinct throughout his career. Jack learned as a 13-year-old that he didn't want to hook his golf ball. Distance was not a problem for him, and a fade gave him control. Grout showed the junior Nicklaus one of the best exercises you could ever give a young golfer. He had him hit balls for hours thinking only of rolling his feet and ankles. This promoted feel and rhythm, a wide arc, a stable lower body and a centered, steady head. It would be good advice for any junior starting the game today, and even a good drill for older, experienced players.

Grout taught Nicklaus to replicate his address position away from the course without a club. Starting with his hands a foot apart, Jack was instructed to swing his arms back and through and feel how his feet would respond. This basic feeling stayed with him for life.

Nicklaus was a very observant young man and was influenced by a lot of different sources, not just Jack Grout. For example, as a youngster he got to play an exhibition once with Sam Snead, and Jack told me that for the next two weeks all he did was try to swing like Sam. Jack met with early success, which set the stage for his inquisitive mind. He loved the learning process and problem solving, and this resulted in a swing that changed over time.

Jack's muscular swing was built to hit the ball very high and overpower golf courses. He set up well behind the ball and drove his massively strong legs through impact. He was not yet a good wind player. As he got older and couldn't drive his legs as dynamically, he started setting up more on top of the ball. He was able to hit it lower when he wanted and became better in the wind and at working the ball. He learned to control the distance of his medium and short irons -- his 7-iron became his 150-yard club, though he could still hit it 185 if needed. As a result, he stayed competitive and continued to play with even fewer mental and course-decision mistakes. As his swing developed, he played to stop the ball with trajectory, not spin.

The great golf instructor Alex Morrison once wrote: "Once you have mastered the correct swing, the excellence of your game will depend upon the extent to which your mind takes charge and the nicety with which your body responds to its commands."

No one has fulfilled that description more consistently over more years than Jack William Nicklaus. Let's examine in more detail how he swung the club and how he played the game.

Jack Grout instructed Nicklaus to roll his left ankle on the backswing (left) and his right ankle on the through-swing, a key Jack used throughout his career. also note how Nicklaus supported the club with his hands under the shaft, not at the side. this prevents a closed clubface at the top and allows a free and complete release of the clubhead through impact.

Jack's Muscular Swing

Jack played left-eye dominant: In other words, he looked at the ball with his chin turned to his right. In Jack's muscular swing, he is in a highly dynamic position, with his body more behind the ball, which created a shallower approach at impact, resulting in a higher ball flight. This required a more lateral motion with his legs to get his body back to the ball at impact. Notice how Jack's head and body are farther behind the ball in his muscular swing than in his classic swing (see below).

Jack's Classic Swing

In his classic swing, Jack set up more on top of the ball, with his right leg angled inward. He said as he got older that his body was not able to make as strong a lateral move to the impact position. His chin is still slightly turned to his right, allowing him to make a bigger shoulder turn. Jack always wanted his chest and shoulders to react to the swinging of his arms and club during the transition. Note how he replanted his left heel toward the target, which kept his left hip from opening too soon.

The lower body slides toward the target, and the hips start to spin open. The head stays back, tilting the spine away from the target and leaving the swing's low point well behind the ball. The result of this move will be a fat shot or thin contact on the upswing.

Flick Tip

Your weight distribution should be a reaction to how the club is designed to be swung. See how Jack is positioned to swing slightly up on the ball, because of the ball being teed. In both photos, Jack initiates the downswing with his left foot, knee, thigh and hip, in that order. His arms control his shoulders, which are never scrunched.

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