In His Own Words: "His Secrets"

By Brett Avery Photos by Getty Images
June 02, 2010

Replacing a driver is harder, I believe, than replacing a putter.

[Golf Journal, 1970]

There are all kinds of nervousness. I'm more nervous in the hours before I play. Once I get started, that kind of nervousness disappears. I wish they'd let me play all four rounds at once in about 17 straight hours.

[The Sporting News, 1972]

I hold my breath during and just prior to making the [putting] stroke. By preventing the diaphragm from moving this helps me to keep my body and head perfectly still.

[Golf Digest, 1972]

[At a par-5 hole] I don't say, 'I'm going to drive it as far as I can and then get home in two.' I think about the kind of drive I want to hit and try to get my mind to make my body hit that kind of shot. This thing of trying to make the same kind of pass at the ball on every swing is a bunch of baloney. I don't think it can be done.

[Golf World, 1972]

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.

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

Don't worry about how you finish any bunker shot. Concentrate only on playing the shot assertively.

[The Greatest Game of All]

As a general rule, the rough does strange things to golfers. They stop thinking. Even experienced club players try to pull off circus shots they would never dream of hitting from a fairway lie.

[The Greatest Game of All]

At each tournament some segment of my swing is sticking out more that week than it generally does. Consequently, I find myself fastening on some little gimmick that will help me either to feel right or to swing right for the duration of that tournament. It might be raising my right shoulder a little higher at address (because that helps me to feel more relaxed and facilitates a freer turn), or it might be slowing down the push off my right foot at the start of the downswing (because that seems to help my balance in the hitting area). The next week it will be something else. When I mention to friends that I am forced to rely on this succession of gimmicks, I can sense that a number of them are let down to learn this. They would much rather hear that a professional golfer has everything securely under control, that each year he gains an increased mastery of his technique. All I can say is that I wish this were so.

[The Greatest Game of All]

I feel that hitting specific shots -- playing the ball to a certain place in a certain way -- is 50 percent mental picture, 40 percent setup, and 10 percent swing.

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

The time to focus your mind on key swing thoughts is as you settle into your final address position.

[Golf My Way]

I've always thought the phrase "hit it nice and easy," when a golfer needed a big shot, was dopey advice. "Hit it nice and smoothly" sounds much better to me.

[Golf My Way]

I have to believe that some of the guys who virtually live on the practice tee on tour are there because they don't have anything better to do with their time.

[Golf My Way]

A big part of managing a golf course is managing your swing on the course. A lot of guys can go out and hit a golf ball, but they have no idea how to manage what they do with the ball. I've won as many tournaments hitting the ball badly as I have hitting the ball well. And in a way I'm more proud of the good rounds I've played while hitting the ball badly than of the great rounds while hitting the ball well.

[Golf, 1988]

I still have mountains I want to climb. I just have to climb them in a different way.

[Palm Beach Post, 1990]

A healthy if well-concealed respect for one's own capabilities is essential in head-to-head golf, but it should never lead to underestimating those of the opponent.

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

Once the gun has gone off, you keep quiet and get on with the job as best you can. The more you let your mind dwell on negatives, of whatever type, the larger they grow and the greater the risk that you will convert them into excuses. I have preferred to save my energy for finding solutions to problematical conditions, rather than waste it on whining.

[My Story]

The ability to win is not easy to describe. The more obvious attributes are certainly major contributors: confidence, concentration, desire, discipline, willpower, patience, love of competition, lack of fear (of success, perhaps, even more than of failure). Yet the fact that many athletes who appear to possess these qualities in spades, plus all of the necessary physical skills, still do not win consistently suggests that they aren't quite the whole story. If more is involved, precisely what is it? With the benefit these days of perfect hindsight, I would pinpoint four qualities that seem to be shared by all consistent winners, at least insofar as golf is concerned: ability to think clearly under pressure, patience, self-centeredness (concern about what other competitors may or may not be doing is both a useless distraction and a waste of energy) and simply working harder at all of the above when you are playing poorly than when you are playing well.

[My Story]

Unpalatable as it may be, the truth is that you and I both, and all who follow us into this great game, are always going to miss far more seemingly makeable putts than we hole.

[My Story]

The essence of putting to me is that it is far more difficult and much more dependent on luck than most of us can easily accept, but, the better we learn to accept this truth about it, the less risk we run of sabotaging our entire game.

[My Story]

If golf is driving you crazy, get involved in so many other things that you simply don't have time to think about it.

[My Story]

When the ball will not go even approximately where you intend it to, the most difficult thing in the world is to sustain your concentration: to grind it out, to make yourself keep on bearing down. Eventually, you just ache to relax and say, "The heck with it," whereupon, of course, you immediately start playing even worse.

[My Story]

Whether admitted or not, every successful person has a hard time with ego. When you have excelled in one area, it becomes all too easy to believe you will automatically do equally well at anything else you try.

[My Story]

There are times when aggressiveness will achieve wonders on the golf course, and other times when it will kill you stone dead.

[My Story]

Success comes from not realizing you're dominant while doing it.

[ASAPSports, which prepares tournament interview transcripts, 1998 Doral-Ryder Open]

I have a variety of different lines I use [to break the ice with nervous pro-am partners], but I think I always remember the one that I used when I played with Steve Gatlin [of the] Gatlin Brothers in Hawaii one time. Brother Rudy came to me he says, Jack, he says you won't believe, Steve was up all night he got sick, he got nervous he couldn't sleep, he just had a horrible night. He says he is so nervous playing you wouldn't believe it. So I got to the first fee and I walked up to Steve and I looked at him, he looked like death warmed over. I put my arm around him I said, "Steve, God, I didn't sleep a wink last night knowing I was going to play with you."

[Tournament transcript, 2003 Senior PGA]