A Legacy in Golf
Blue River Press. 320 pp. $24.95
By Dick Grout, with Bill Winter
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Reviewed by Carl B. Everett
Most golfers who witnessed the glory days of Jack Nicklaus can tell you that the architect of his powerful, fairway-eating swing was Jack Grout. And that alone is enough to secure Grout's place in golfing lore.
But there was more to this exemplary man than a sweet swing and a knack for teaching golf, and his son Dick, with help from journalist Bill Winter, introduces him in Jack Grout: A Legacy in Golf.
Jack Grout saw virtually every American professional golfer of note during the 1930s and 1940s, including the emerging young Texas pros Byron Nelson and Ben Hogan. The pages devoted to Nelson and Hogan and their winter caravans to California and Florida provide much new insight into the early days of players who went on to fame and, relatively speaking, fortune. Grout, Hogan and Nelson all competed in the 1934 U.S. Open at Merion - and all three missed the cut.
Born in Oklahoma City in 1910, Jack Grout discovered golf while looking through a fence and later wrote: ". . . at my first sight of one I'd decided that a golf course was the nicest place in the world to be." He followed his older brothers into caddying, and at age 12 had his first brush with golfing royalty when he caddied for a barnstorming Walter Hagen, who by that time had won two U.S. Opens and the PGA Championship.
In 1930, Jack's older brother Dick became the head professional at the Glen Garden Club in Fort Worth, Texas, with Jack as his assistant. There the Grout brothers met Hogan and Nelson, who were already demonstrating career-defining competitiveness.
Although he played competitively through most of the 1930s and 1940s, including six U.S. Open appearances, Grout was not as successful as some of his peers. Described by Nelson as "too nice a guy" in competition, Grout realized that his future would be as a club pro and teacher of the game. His career shifted into a series of club jobs, several in Pennsylvania.
In 1949, Grout moved to Scioto Country Club in Columbus, Ohio. Needing medicine one day, he stopped at the first drug store he saw on the way to work. The pharmacist told Grout that his 10-year-old son was interested in golf. The youngster was Jack Nicklaus and the relationship that began that day lasted until Grout died in 1989. Young Nicklaus was just as hard-working as Hogan and Nelson and eventually surpassed their extraordinary achievements. His success was due in large part to Grout's tutelage.
Grout returned to Merion in 1971 to watch Nicklaus play in the U.S. Open, where he lost a playoff to Lee Trevino. After one of the rounds, Nicklaus practiced at Philadelphia Country Club under Jack Grout's watchful eye, with Dick Grout observing.
Grout believed that length off the tee was a most desirable skill, and his emphasis on it paid tremendous dividends for Nicklaus. Grout also stressed self-reliance. He wanted his students to know their games the way an auto mechanic knows cars so they could patch things up during rough spells.
In Nicklaus' later years on the Tour, his sessions with Grout were largely tune-ups, focusing on fundamentals, as opposed to the wholesale swing changes of the sort famously attempted by Tiger Woods. Grout stands in stark contrast to many modern instructors with their one-size-fits-all approach to the golf swing. Much was said about young Nicklaus' flying right elbow. One wonders whether today's famous swing gurus would have tolerated such an unusual position.
Grout's association with Nicklaus put him in great demand as an instructor/mentor. Raymond Floyd's afterword recalls how he and his fellow pros would approach Grout on the practice range looking for that little tip that might propel them to victory. Grout simply loved teaching and touched everyone around him. His technique was to praise what was done well, emphasizing grip, posture, ball position, and keeping the head steady.
Grout also had a great eye for talent. The book recounts how Grout and several other pros encountered a young Fred Couples on the driving range. Said one, "What a lousy looking move." Grout replied that Couples' motion was "about as pure as you'll ever see. And just look at the power it produces. Depending on what's in his head and his belly, I think he could have quite a future."
Grout, of course, was right about that, as he was about so many things. His son's fond portrait is a worthwhile addition to a golfer's library.