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John Underwood
February 19, 1973
For a decade Jack Nicklaus lost fans to fat and Arnold Palmer. Despite his extraordinary record, he was the spoiler. But now that he has become golf's leading man, life is fun (and family games)
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February 19, 1973

A Heavy Comes To Light

For a decade Jack Nicklaus lost fans to fat and Arnold Palmer. Despite his extraordinary record, he was the spoiler. But now that he has become golf's leading man, life is fun (and family games)

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"Charlie was very outgoing, very personable. Jack was just like him at the start. A big happy-go-lucky teen-age kid. He went into a shell a little after he turned pro, but I think that was a defensive thing.

" 'He was such a smart kid. He'd ask me questions most pros wouldn't think to ask. Jack always had it here," he said, tapping his forehead. "He could be the smartest ever for knowing how to manage himself on a golf course. I remember when he was a junior in college in the NCAA match-play tournament. In a 36-hole semifinal he was four down after 18. At lunch Charlie said, 'Jackie' (he always called him Jackie until he won the U.S. Amateur, then Jack told him he didn't want to be called that anymore), "Jackie,' he said, 'shall I check out of the motel?' Jack said, 'Don't be foolish, Dad. I'm going to kill this guy.' He beat him 2 and 1."

His host asked if Grout was betting the fourth race. Grout picked up the program, studying it randomly. "I pass," he said and turned back.

"I teach my kids the big swing," he said. "Some see it. They say, 'The elbow!' But that's not it. It's a full turn. Body and shoulders. Let it go, pop it out there. It's harder, but once you get it under control it's a big advantage. If I outdrive you 50 yards I'm going to beat you, or at least discourage you. With Jack it was easy because he always loved to practice.

"High winds. Mud. Rain. We'd be out there. 'You're going to play in it, you better practice in it,' I told him. Have you ever heard him complain it was too hot or muddy or too anything? Never. He never complains."

At least once a year Nicklaus goes back to Grout, usually at the beginning of a new season, and has him inspect his game. "Treat me like I was just starting," he tells him, and Grout sifts out the pings and knocks of neglect—the bad posture, the erratic backswing, the inferior grip. Nicklaus once spent an entire afternoon with Grout in a La Gorce sand trap. There were other times when Nicklaus sent his jet from some far-off tournament to fetch Grout. "He was hooking something awful at Doral one year, missing the middle of the fairway by 75 yards. He shot a 40 on the front side. I told him, 'You're coming across the ball worse'n I ever saw!' He was still doing it at the Masters. Then, months later, when he got to Pebble Beach he called me. 'Come out,' he said, 'I want you to see something.' I went and watched him hit. He knew he had it, he just wanted me to see. He's like a kid that way. 'You got it,' I said. He said, 'We'll have dinner tonight?' I said, 'Yes, we'll have dinner.'

"Jack hit bottom at the U.S. Open in 1970," he said. " Tony Jacklin won, and Jack tied for 51st. I could have cried. He had an 81 in the first round, and he looked like a dog in the rain. So helpless. But here's the thing I was telling you. He thought it out. He worked it out. Twenty days later he won the British Open. I'll never forget that performance. He threw his putter in the air on the last hole: he'd never done that before. It was just amazing. From the bottom to the top in 20 days."

Grout paused, reflecting. "Listen, Jack Nicklaus is everything I ever wanted to be. He has done everything I ever dreamed of doing. Some golf pros in my position might resent that—some probably do—but I don't. I idolize Jack Nicklaus."

" McCormack had me too heavily scheduled. Too much to do. And I never knew where I stood. Just 'Here, sign this,' " said Jack Nicklaus. He was sitting in his private office, leaning back while a miniskirted secretary placed lunch on the round table. His was a mound of tuna fish on a lettuce leaf, with a side of cut lemon.

"Ugh," said Tom Peterson, looking at the tuna. He lifted a thigh from his own platter of fried chicken. Peterson is the only member of Jack's group, the executive committee of Golden Bear, Inc., who is on the regular payroll. The offices reek with class. The walls are paneled in real rosewood. There is no clutter and only a few well-chosen mementos: a handsome cut-glass decanter of cognac, a specially bound copy of Jack's book, an autographed football from the 1969 Ohio State Rose Bowl team. The reception area is decorated with mounted fish (Jack's catches), enlarged magazine covers of Jack and a long-haired blonde receptionist.

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