Editor’s Note: Following is The Most Important Golf Lesson, the second of several planned excerpts from A Wonderful Run at Life: The Stories of Pandel Savic, published in 2016 by Orange Frazar Press. An immigrant from Macedonia and star quarterback for the Ohio State Buckeyes who led them to their first Rose Bowl victory in 1949, Pandel is the 30- year chairman of The Memorial Tournament and is well known throughout PGA and USGA circles. The Savic and Jack Nicklaus families lives have been intertwined for decades. According to Nicklaus, Pandel has taken more lessons of any human being in the history of the game, perhaps over 10,000. Many of those lessons came from the greatest teachers and players of the game ... Hogan, Nelson, Grout, Leadbetter, Flick, and of course Jack himself.
I was becoming a pretty good golfer. I took more lessons from Jack Grout. I played every chance I could sneak in a round. Mr. Grout would meet me at the OSU course very early on Saturdays, something like eight o’clock. He didn’t want me to move on to other fundamentals until I was good with the first three. It cost me something like ten bucks a lesson.
When he thought I understood and applied the first three fundamentals to my swing, he started on his other three.
“Now it’s time for a little footwork instruction, Pandel.”
“Sure.” I was hitting the ball better than I ever had and really didn’t want to think about my feet.
“Set up for me again.” I did.
“What I’m talking about now is rolling your ankles while keeping your knees in position. It promotes a full swing.”
“I’ll try it, Mr. Grout.”
He took a couple of swings demonstrating his footwork philosophy. As I remember it, legendary Coach Robert Kepler of the OSU golf team was standing behind us. I remember the oak trees swaying in the summer wind.
I did what Mr. Grout told me to do. It was difficult at first, clumsy even. He watched me for a while, encouraged me to keep at it, and then left for his commitments at Scioto.
Coach Kepler and I had a nice chat, mostly about what I thought of the Buckeye football team that was close to starting their pre-season training.
Later that afternoon, after my round at Scarlet with my pals where I tried out the new ideas on the course, a good-looking young man ran out to the practice range and told me Mr. Grout was on the phone. My teacher wanted to know if I could drive over to Scioto and spend a few minutes on the range with him. He said it was okay with the club manager and the club’s professional so I agreed immediately. I’d never imagined a day with a lesson, play, and then a lesson again. Though I didn’t know it at the time, I would have many more days like that one.
When I got to Scioto, Mr. Grout was showing a boy of about ten years old how to hit from the practice sand bunker. Mr. Grout gave me a wave, the kind that says he’d be with me in a few minutes.
That lesson with Jack Grout was the most important lesson I ever had. It consisted of a quick review of how I was doing with his first four fundamentals. I hit about thirty balls for him and it seemed he approved of my progress.
“Now let’s talk about two other things,” he said. “I’m all ears.”
Jack and Jack Grout. Courtesy Jack Nicklaus Museum at Ohio State.
“The next thing I want you to concentrate on is the fact that you need to have ‘full extension in your swing arc,’ the widest and longest you can make it while your arm is still fully connected to your shoulder and upper body.”
“Okay. I’ll try that.”
I took a few practice swings and got the feel for the idea. My first couple of swings were just okay. I lifted my head on one so that didn’t count in my mind. The connected full arc idea clicked on the next twenty swings and each one felt perfect. It indeed was the most important golf lesson I’d taken to date.
“Now, for one more thought.”
I listened and watched while he demonstrated what he called ‘quiet hands’ from the top, from the very start of the downswing.
After another fifteen minutes of reviewing all I’d learned from him, he said I would have to use the fundamentals I’d learned from him to make corrections on the golf course. He said all the great players were able to do just that.
“I’ll work with you any time you like,” said Mr. Grout.
Next: Business-Card Golf Wisdom
Donald Holmes Lewis is an author and son-in-law of Pandel Savic. He has an MFA in Creative Writing from the Iowa Writers Workshop