Flick's Legacy Will Live On
Embracing what the storied teacher has meant to the game's greats
Tim Rosaforte is a Golf World Senior Writer and Golf Channel's Tour Insider. This column first appeared in the Nov. 5 edition of Golf World Monday.
Jim Flick was taking his final calls late last week. His body ravaged by pancreatic cancer, his strength sapped by not being able to eat, the 82-year-old swing instructor came to the phone Friday morning just to say goodbye. After I called, so did Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee. After Chamblee, it was Beau Hossler, the high-school junior from Southern California who played so well at the U.S. Open this summer. "It was difficult, but it was a call I needed to make," Hossler said, breaking down. "He was almost like a grandfather."
Young or old, we all felt the same way, from the 17-year-old Hossler to 72-year-old Jack Nicklaus. When Nicklaus came to Desert Mountain in 1990 for his Champions Tour debut, Flick was there to play Jack Grout, turning a frustrated Golden Bear into a Tradition winner. As a teaching pro in the early 1970s, Flick sat behind Nicklaus and his childhood instructor when they worked at Frenchman's Creek in Florida. "Day after day he'd not say a word, just watching," Nicklaus said from his home in North Palm Beach, Fla. "He could see what we did, he could understand what Grout was doing, and he changed his way of teaching because of that."
Over the last week Flick took calls from former President George H.W Bush, former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor and Home Depot co-founder Arthur Blank. Other than Phil Mickelson, who stopped by on his way to the HSBC Champions, or Lyle Anderson, the developer of Desert Mountain where Jim was once director of instruction, TaylorMade CEO Mark King was the only one Flick would allow visitation.
"I'd literally lay in bed, hold his hand and talk golf," King said. They also discussed a Jim Flick Foundation for Junior Golfers, renaming The Kingdom (the state-of-the-art club-fitting facility at TaylorMade) the "Flick Kingdom," and building a library in his name. "He passed on a lot of thoughts that I tried to capture."
It was King who gave Flick the platform for the final stages of his career, and Tom Lehman who put a spotlight on it during his victory at the Charles Schwab Cup Championship. "He's got a whole stable of kids that became his passion," said Lehman. "Jack has faded away from competitive golf and I've gotten older, but these young kids, whenever I go there, he's just got one kid after another coming in to work with him and he loves it. It kept him young."
Flick's work in 2006 with AJGA Players of the Year Philip Francis and Esther Choe at Desert Mountain started it. Hossler will carry the legacy forward. When I spoke to Flick during Hossler's run at the Olympic Club, he talked about passing down what he learned from Nicklaus and Bob Toski back in the days of the Golf Digest Schools. " 'Grip pressure and transition with his feet from the ground up,' Toski said. 'To me, that's what separates great players.' "
And what separated Flick from other great instructors? "It wasn't so much the swing as it was the life lessons that were invaluable," Hossler said. "Without him, I wouldn't be anywhere near where I am right now. He's always there for me."
And he always will be, for more than just Beau.