PGA teaching legend Flick was always one of golf’s unforgettable servants

Jim Flick
The PGA of America
Jim Flick loved to teach golf, whether to tour players, rank beginners or even his fellow PGA instructors.
By
Bob Denney
The PGA of America

Series: PGA Feature

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. -- Jim Flick never had a problem locating a lesson tee, even those that required a good climb.

When challenged in 1996 in New Orleans during the PGA Teaching & Coaching Summit to host the “world’s highest golf lesson” on the roof of the Superdome, Flick shrugged his shoulders and asked, “When do you need me?”

One of the most insightful and magnanimous instructors in PGA of America history, Flick achieved many summits before losing a battle with pancreatic cancer Nov. 5. He was 82.

“Aside from what he accomplished in developing golf schools,” said 2008 PGA Teacher of the Year Martin Hall of Palm City, Fla., “perhaps the most amazing thing was how Jim could make a 36-handicap player feel just as important as teaching Jack Nicklaus.”

Flick, a 2011 inductee into the PGA Golf Professional Hall of Fame, taught the game in 23 nations while elevating the business of golf instruction. Elected to PGA membership in 1959, he served as director instruction for Golf Digest Schools, guiding more than 1,000 multi-day programs -- and teaching that memporable lesson atop the Superdome.

PGA Life Member William Earl Morgan, a former Gulf States PGA Section president, recalled that memorable golf lesson with Flick on top of the Superdome nearly 16 years ago.

“People look at the photo of us and think we posed.” said Morgan. “But I quickly correct them and let them know it was a real lesson and that Jim spent 15 minutes with me and I was surprised how much he covered in that time. I later told my wife that halfway up to the roof I was thinking, ‘You idiot, what have you done now?’ I told the maintenance workers that they wouldn’t have to sand the rails that day!

“Jim was such a good teacher, and not the type that didn’t know how to communicate to players who were not Tour or PGA Professionals. I have that photo framed of us on top of the Superdome. It was a day I’ll never forget.”

To reach the next “summit” in his teaching career, Flick had never intended to make a business agreement with Nicklaus. It all happened by accident, and Flick had prepared himself by watching Nicklaus’ famed teacher, Jack Grout, teach the Golden Bear at Frenchman’s Creek in Jupiter, Fla.

“I knew he was a very nice guy, but I didn’t really have much involvement with Jim through the years until he began to come over to Frenchman’s Creek in Jupiter (Florida) and watch Jack Grout and me work,” said Nicklaus. “He would sit behind Jack Grout and me, while Mr. Grout was teaching. He would sit back there for hours, day after day. So, there isn’t anybody who watched more of Mr. Grout teaching me than Jim Flick.

“So, when Jack passed away in 1989, I was looking for somebody to help me. I had gone to a couple of guys and I was sort of struggling to find the right person. I had just turned 50 years old and I was out at The Tradition – my first tournament and major as a senior.

“Jim just happened to be walking around. I think we were walking down the 18th fairway, and he had watched most of the last nine holes, so I turned to him and said, “Well, Jim what do you see? You’ve seen me enough. You’ve seen Jack Grout and how he taught me.’  Jim said, ‘Well, I don’t see Jack Nicklaus.’ I said, ‘What do you mean?’

“So, we went to the practice tee and he showed me what he meant. At the time, I was real active with my hips and not using my legs and not using the club. Through a variety of things Jim did and worked on, I won that golf tournament. I had not played very well up to that point, but did that week, thanks to Jim. Every year at The Tradition since then, Jim would come out and we worked together. I’d have to say that he has been my teacher of note ever since.”

Nicklaus said that Flick understood “what was important to me and were instrumental to my success throughout the years. Jim knew and understood those things. Sure, I have asked other fellas different things over the years, but Jim has always been the guy I went back to over the last 15 years of my competitive career.

When he approached Nicklaus in 1990 about his legacy in golf, Flick asked if the Golden Bear was willing to “document and use” that legacy. Nicklaus agreed, and the Nicklaus/Flick Schools became a standard-bearer in the industry.

“Jim and I were together for many years after that,” said Nicklaus. “More important, for decades Jim has been a good friend to me, on and off the golf course. He has not only touched my life and career, but he has influenced hundreds, if not thousands, of people over the years.”

Flick operated the Nicklaus-Flick Golf Schools (1991-2003); operated his own Jim Flick Premier School in 2002; and served as a lead instructor for the ESPN Golf Schools (2003-05). Since 2006, he has served as the ambassador for TaylorMade Golf.

The third recipient of the PGA Teacher of the Year award in 1988, Flick was the ninth instructor inducted into the World Golf Teachers Hall of Fame in 2002, the same year that he was inducted into the Southern Ohio PGA Hall of Fame. Flick also was a 1995 inductee into the Wake Forest University Athletic Hall of Fame; and in 1999, Golf World selected him one of the Top 10 Teachers of the 20th Century.

Of the more than 200 Tour professionals among countless amateurs and premier junior players, the list also included 1996 Open Champion Tom Lehman.

Last weekend, Lehman had Flick on his mind in the final round of the Charles Schwab Cup Championship at Desert Mountain, where he closed with a 65 for a six-shot win to become the first player to win the Schwab Cup in consecutive years.

Lehman had always kept in contact with Flick, and had his teacher on Friday and again Sunday morning before his final round. Flick said softly to his longtime student, “Be Tom Lehman.”

As Lehman two-putted for birdie on the final hole Sunday, he paused and bent down and buried his face into his cap.

“The last hole, I know that he was probably watching today,” said Lehman. “I felt quite certain that that was probably the last driver he was ever going to see me hit and I wanted to make it a good one. And the last 7-iron he will ever see me hit, and I wanted to make that a good one. And the last putt, I wanted to make that putt. I didn't want to make it simply because I want to win by six. I wanted to make it for him.”

A native of Bedford, Ind., Flick began playing golf at age 10 through the influence of his father, Coleman Flick, a Bedford City Champion. Flick attended Wake Forest University on a basketball scholarship and roomed six months of his sophomore year with Arnold Palmer, then a junior. Flick turned professional following graduation in 1952 and attempted to play tournament golf before determining that his future was in the club professional ranks.

“Jim Flick and I became good friends during our college days at Wake Forest.  In fact, we were roommates for a short period of time after Bud Worsham died,” said Palmer. “I followed Jim’s activities and fine career as a golf instructor and we communicated through the years quite a lot.  I’m very sorry that this has happened, and extend my sincere sympathy to the Flick family.”

Flick served in the U.S. Army from 1953-54, and at the conclusion of the Korean War turned professional in 1955 to become an assistant professional at Evansville (Ind.) Country Club. He followed by being named PGA head professional (1956-60) at Connersville, Ind., and from 1961-74 at Losantiville Country Club in Cincinnati. Flick was treasurer of the Southern Ohio PGA Section as the Section played host to the 1964 PGA Championship at Columbus Country Club, and was Section president (1967-69) when NCR Country Club in Dayton hosted the 1969 PGA Championship.

Flick’s advertisement to invite students to his golf schools underscored his commitment to learning a game that was a constant exercise in learning.

“Although golf is a game of infinite subtlety and possibility, always remember that the door that leads to its inner secrets and rewards is marked fun,” said Flick.

“From the first time I met him, I found him to be a very remarkable man,” said Hall, who first met Flick in 1982 at Turnberry, Scotland. “His commitment to improvement was very much alive throughout his life. The number of players he helped was countless. We traveled around the world together, and he always showed up with a smile on his face and anxious to help others feel better about themselves in golf. I think that Jim continuously tried to elevate his work in his 60s, 70s, and his 80s.

“He was the model of what a teaching professional might be, and he will go down along with a Harvey Penick as one of the most gifted teaching professionals ever.”

From 1986 through 2005, Flick was PGA director of instruction at Desert Mountain in Scottsdale, Ariz. A frequent contributor to national golf publications for decades, Flick was involved or authored five books: “Square to Square Golf” (1974), “Square to Square in Pictures” (1974), “How to Become a Complete Golfer” (1980), “Jim Flick on Golf” (1997), and “Swing Analysis by Jim Flick – Jack Nicklaus, Simply the Best” (2007).

Funeral arrangements for Flick are pending. He is survived by his wife, Geri, of Carlsbad, Calif.; four daughters: Jan, Suzanne, Kimberly and Vicki; and a son, Stephen.