Editor’s Note: Following is the first of several planned excerpts from A Wonderful Run at Life: The Stories of Pandel Savic, published in 2016 by Orange Frazar Press and available on Amazon and at selected bookstores nationwide. 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’d heard about Jack Grout. In fact, everyone in the Columbus golfing world was aware of the credit given to Grout in building the fundamentals of Jack’s golf swing. Jack Grout wasn’t a world famous teacher when I stepped towards him on the practice tee at Scioto with Jack Nicklaus at my side, but he would soon become one of the most famous instructors in all of golf. I knew Mr. Grout was a talented young player who turned professional in 1931, competing admirably against Byron Nelson and Ben Hogan in tournaments around the Texas area and beyond in the decade before the war. That Sunday afternoon it was a windless day under blue skies. Leaves were scattered across the range. No one else was hitting balls. Mr. Grout was a man about six feet tall, handsome with a strong chin. He wore sunglasses and smiled as we shook hands. He said he knew about my career as a quarterback at Ohio State. Jack walked a few paces away and began his practice regimen. “Let me see your grip, Pandel.” I showed him and he shook his head.
“The grip is where we start. Your right hand is too weak and your left hand too strong. This is the first fundamental. If your grip is good, the rest of your body reacts to it. The clubface naturally comes back to where you addressed it. Try holding it like this.” I hit a few balls for him. The grip felt odd but I could understand what he was saying and I hit some pretty well, higher and straighter than I had been hitting balls recently. I hit a couple of them poorly. “Now let’s talk about your set-up.”
He helped me set my hips square to the target and made me broaden my stance slightly. He used his hands to push my knees into position and show me why. He leveled my shoulders with a firm hand. I hit a few wedges not so well but then struck the ball squarely for a while. I hit about thirty shots trying to do what he said. Then I sprayed one to the right and hooked one to the left.
“Your head is moving,” he said.
“How do I keep from doing that?”
“Like I’ve told your friend over there…watch the ball leave the clubface and don’t bob down with your head or lift it up. Don’t move your head back and forth either. See yourself hit the ball. To teach this to our friend over there, I’d hold his hair while he hit balls. It helped him though it’s raw talent that makes him a great player.” I promised myself to pick up where I left off with Mr. Grout in the spring if I could get permission to take lessons at Scioto. I vowed to find a way to join the club as soon as I could afford it.
Next: The Most Important Lesson
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