PGA Championship

Valhalla Golf Club


In His Own Words: Instruction

June 02, 2010

Sometimes you can correct the errors in your swing by correcting the tempo, but other times when you're making certain kinds of bad moves, you can't swing slowly or smoothly no matter how hard you try. You have to correct the bad moves first. Tempo -- the overall rate of speed of your swing -- is function, not ornament. So is rhythm -- the flow that knits together the various moves that make up the swing. So, too, is timing, the result of tempo and rhythm.

[Jack Nicklaus with Herbert Warren Wind. The Greatest Game of All: My Life In Golf. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1969]

Unless I'm playing a shot from a fairway bunker or a shot from high grass around the green or some other shot on which precise contact is absolutely essential, I never aim for a point on the ball -- just for the ball. Also, I never try to actually hit the ball, as if the hit were a distinct action in itself. I try to swing through the ball.

[The Greatest Game of All]

With so many stop-action [swing sequence] photos paraded before them, many diligent club golfers make the mistake of trying to push themselves into some definite position during the course of the swing -- say, just as they enter the hitting zone -- in an attempt to copy the position of some successful golfers which the camera has caught. This is a bad idea. You shouldn't think of the swing as being made up of many segments, each of them consciously controlled. The successful golfer knows better. The position in which you see him frozen is a consequence of his earlier movements, and he reaches it only by performing those movements correctly. He doesn't confuse cause and effect, but the average golfer does.

[The Greatest Game of All]

In the practice area, the prevailing wind, ideally, should come from the right and be slightly against the golfer. Since they ordinarily occupy whatever ground is left over after the holes have been laid out, most practice areas are not all that they should be.

[The Greatest Game of All]

Golf is easier than many people believe. Many golfers' chief problem is simply that they won't persevere with fundamentals. They are like a friend I play with each year in the Crosby. We get him back to fundamentals and playing nicely to his handicap. But the moment he hits one bad shot on the course, he's off in search of a new theory. He's always in trouble.

[Golf Digest, 1972]

Here's a tip on one of the toughest shots in golf -- the pitch of between 50-80 yards, the three-quarter wedge or half 9-iron. You can choose to hit these shots hard or easy, but you should determine to hit them the same way every time. You'll never get the proper "feel" on these shots if you continually vary your swing power. I think most average golfers will get the best results from a firm-hitting style, because it lessens the tendency to quit on the shot.

[Golf Digest, 1972]

How do I "feel" overall at the top of the backswing? I feel strong, exerted, stretched, coiled, wound up, packed full of leverage -- not tense, but springy, like a sprinter set for a 100-yard dash.

[Jack Nicklaus with Ken Bowden. Golf My Way. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1974]

There is the pleasure of peer approval [in youth group lessons], which comes with developing skills. I got a kick out of being hauled from the line by Jack Grout to show the rest of the kids "how to hit down on it" and "how to get out of a bunker" or whatever. I'm sure that wanting to remain a demonstrator and model was as great a spur to improvement as playing better for its own sake. I know I certainly worked harder after Jack Grout had used someone else to show off a particular shot or technique.

[Sports Illustrated, 1977]


Photo by Brian Morgan/Getty Images

A realistic expectation is anything you think you can do.

[New York Times, 1991]

Jack [Grout] believed in the simplest possible approach to the game of golf, and also in a broad approach. He would give you the bare bones of a basic, then encourage you to figure out the details for yourself. 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. "Gee, Jackie," he'd say, as something began to take hold, "that looks just great. Doesn't it feel just great? Let's do it some more." All the rest of the time would then be devoted to enthusing you about whatever it was you were now doing so splendidly -- or, in other words, to building your confidence. Jack always wanted you to do it your way, the most natural way you could, 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.

[Jack Nicklaus with Ken Bowden. My Story. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997]

The tendency of most golfers when they want to hit farther is to move everything quicker or harder than the one thing that must go faster, which is the clubhead. My way of protecting against that is to be a little less deliberate in setting up to minimize muscle tension, but then give myself a little more time with the swing itself -- to be slow and smooth enough to complete all the moves that I know are necessary to produce a good pass.

[My Story]

Now, the kids today, I mean, you may have a guy that's teaching 20 guys, and he's going up and down the range talking to these 20 guys. How much real feeling and concern could he have for each one? Sure, he's trying to help each one, but that guy is getting paid by each one of them.

[ASAPSports, which prepares tournament interview transcripts, 2004 Memorial]