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.