Cover story

My Lifetime Principles For Great Golf

I've used these 6 fundamentals throughout my career. They'll help you reach your potential

March 2010

Editor's note: The first article by Jack Nicklaus that appeared in this magazine was in the February 1963 issue. Eight months earlier, Nicklaus had won his first major championship as a professional, the U.S. Open at Oakmont, and already the editors knew he offered something truly special. "This 23-year-old not only has an amazingly mature knowledge of swing fundamentals," they wrote, "but also the veteran professional's ability to incorporate them into his own game."

As we celebrate our 60th anniversary we again call on Jack, now 70, to explain the full-swing fundamentals he used to win his major championships and more than 100 titles in total. Golf Digest Teaching Professional Jim Flick has coached Jack for the past 20 years. Starting here, and over the next several months, they'll explain how Jack's timeless principles can help you save strokes and improve your game.

--Roger Schiffman

Nicklaus: My Lifetime Principles For Great Golf

Photo: Golf Digest Resource Center


Steady and behind the ball

Every golfer should understand that golf is a game of balance, rhythm and timing. You have to swing the club. To do that, your body must be in position, beginning with your head, which needs to start behind the ball and stay there all the way through impact.

Jack Grout, my first teacher, taught me to look down over my left cheek at the ball. This encourages you to set up with your upper body slightly back. Then your body can react to the swinging of the club.

I also swivel my head to the right as a swing trigger. I played with Sam Snead when I was 16 and watched that little cocking of his head. I thought: If it's good enough for Sam, it's good enough for me.

FLICK NOTES: A steady head helps create a consistent bottom of the swing arc and angle of approach for each club.

JACK SAYS: My head is just behind the ball, and my club is completely released. jack grout would have been pleased.
JIM SAYS: Keeping a steady head helps create a consistent relationship between the parts of the body and the club. it helps to synchronize the swing.
Jack Nicklaus: My Lifetime Principles For Great Golf

Photo by Dom Furore


Place your hands on the club naturally

Stand with your arms relaxed, and see how they hang at your sides. Now place your hands on the club without any manipulation. That will be a neutral grip with as few outside forces on the club as possible. The grip in the left hand is diagonally across the palm. In the right, it's in the fingers.

I interlock because it helps unify my hands. Pressure points for me are in the last two fingers and the heel pad of the left hand and in the thumb and index finger of the right. As the clubs get shorter, they get heavier, so you need to use a firmer, but constant, grip pressure.

FLICK NOTES: Keeping your grip pressure constant throughout the swing is important. That allows the club to return to its desired position at impact. You can't have a free release if your grip pressure changes.
JACK SAYS: I've always used an interlocking grip. That's what Mr. Grout taught my dad--and me.
JIM SAYS: When you can feel the clubhead with a proper grip and grip pressure, your body will react to it instinctively.

Jack Nicklaus: My Lifetime Principles For Great Golf

Photo: Golf Digest Resource Center


Stand relaxed but athletically to the ball

Here's the best way for me to explain my thoughts on posture: Stand up as you normally stand; now relax your legs. Bend slightly from the waist. Don't bend or straighten your upper body, just relax. Now hold the club and drop your shoulders. Where your arms fall, that's where the club goes.

I want my back relatively straight, my rear end out a bit, my arms relaxed and hanging down. I also want my chin up so my left shoulder is not restricted as it turns completely under a steady head. Nothing fancy.

FLICK NOTES: Jack's posture sets up good things that will happen during the swing. You want room so your arms and club can swing freely, with the body reacting--you want to be able to turn your shoulders and shift your weight.

JACK SAYS: I want my feet aimed straight and my hips straight, but my shoulders can be slightly open.
JIM SAYS: Your weight should be on the balls of your feet, so it's 50/50 from heel to toe.

Jack Nicklaus: My Lifetime Principles For Great Golf

Photo: Golf Digest Resource Center


Roll your ankles for a proper weight transfer

When I first learned the game, Jack Grout had me go home without a golf club and just swing my arms back and through, rolling my ankles. It was brilliant. Your arms won't swing if your ankles don't roll. This is playing golf from the ground up.

As in any sport--baseball, tennis, football--your feet dominate what you do. Rolling the ankles teaches you two things: (1) to have a soft forward movement while keeping you steady on the ground, and (2) to release the club, because your right foot stays close to the ground as you swing through impact.

FLICK NOTES: This is from Alex Morrison, who influenced Grout. Get in your setup, and roll your left ankle on the backswing, your right ankle on the through-swing.

JACK SAYS: Releasing the club through impact is a result of rolling your ankles back and forth.
JIM SAYS: Holding the instep of your back foot down keeps the right hip in check so your arms stay close to your body.


Jack Nicklaus' Career Highlights

Jack Nicklaus' Career Highlights

Starting with his 1959 win at the U.S. Amateur to the 1986 Masters
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