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Confidence Game

Nicklaus learned early from Jack Grout that the best thing he could do on the golf course was trust his play and make his own decisions.

  • Jack Nicklaus takes pleasure in watching his putt drop for a birdie on the 17th hole at Augusta National on April 13, 1986. The shot gave him the lead and ultimately, his sixth Masters title. Nicklaus is selected the golfer of the century by a six-member panel assembled by The Associated Press.
Jack Nicklaus takes pleasure in watching his putt drop for a birdie on the… (Phil Sandlin / AP )

PERHAPS THE GREATEST GOLF LESSON Jack Grout ever taught me was not something you can find in a book, on a video, in some infomercial, or on the back of a box of the latest and greatest swing aid. In fact, it wasn't even something born out of the dirt of a practice tee.

It was a lesson that came at the age of 10 and one I find ageless -- something I still reiterate today if asked the one bit of advice I would give the average golfer. It's about knowing yourself; understanding your golf game; and most important, believing in it, trusting it, and having the confidence in yourself and your game.

I picked up the game of golf at the age of 10, when my father let me caddie for him as he walked the course to rehabilitate an ankle injury. Fortunately for me, that same year Jack Grout came to our home club, Scioto Country Club in Columbus, Ohio. I began as just another kid in Jack's class, but soon, he was calling me out -- "Jackie Buck" he would say -- to demonstrate to the other students how to hit certain shots.

To have the faith and trust in me to show and help other kids instilled in me a tremendous amount of confidence at a tender age. And that is what Jack Grout did for me my entire career and until the day he sadly passed away in 1989.

Jack had me not only learn the game, but learn my game. He did not teach me to "just do it," but why I was doing it. He made me use my head, not just my golf swing.

That was the whole idea. When I went out to play golf, I didn't have to run back to him. He taught me to be independent. That's how I became a good player.

That's what I learned -- being able to get on a golf course and learn what my own abilities were, to play within my own abilities, understand my abilities and understand what I could do with them.

Any champion occasionally has to win without their best game, and I have won ugly many times. I did so because I learned how to control what I was doing.

Jack Grout might have been the world's best golf teacher, but that is not for me to judge. What I do know is that he certainly was a tremendous motivator, with a special knack for teaching me what to do and to do it on my own. I do not think that Jack ever stepped foot on a practice tee at any tournament with me. Not once did I ever call him from a golf tournament to ask him a question. For much of my career, I saw Jack two, three, maybe four times a year, mostly just for refreshers. Then as I got a little older, there were places that Jack went where he was sort of pro emeritus, teacher emeritus, and I took advantage of that and spent time with him. And often, we would spend hours just talking -- not saying one thing about my golf game or golf swing.

What Jack Grout did best was to take interest in me. That's what a teacher has to do. And that propelled me forward and it's something that's lasted my entire golf career.

He taught me a lot more about me than he taught me about golf.

He taught me who I was and what I could do. "Know your game, play within yourself, and only then can you improve." And I don't care if you're a 20-handicapper, if you learn that, you'll be a better player.

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