Remembering Jack Grout, The Legendary Coach Whose Student Roster was Filled by More Than The Golden Bear
By Bob Denney, PGA Historian Emeritus
Jack Grout grew up among a generation of talented self-taught players during the 1930s and ’40s. At that time, the full-time teaching professional didn’t exist. As Ky Laffoon, Grout’s golfing buddy, once said, “There was nobody around who knew much.”
As it turned out, Grout gleaned more than Laffoon or his contemporaries could envision, making the transition from tour professional to the lesson tee. His impact is still being felt today.
In 1930, Jack Grout and his older brother Dick moved from Oklahoma City to Fort Worth, Texas, where Dick became head professional at Glen Garden Country Club and Jack his assistant. Among the junior members Jack began playing with were two teenagers, Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson.
The Grouts noticed Hogan carried only seven clubs—three left-handed and four right-handed. Jack Grout said that the first time he met Hogan, he was playing three different ways -- cross-handed, right-handed (or “Cow-handed,” as they say in Texas) and orthodox left-handed. And, he could hit hooks from either side.
The brothers convinced Hogan to play from just one side—the right—aided by three hickory-shafted right-handed clubs that Dick gave him.
“Uncle Dick said Hogan always was a loner, didn’t ask anyone for advice on his game,” wrote PGA Life Member Dick Grout in his book, Jack Grout, A Legacy in Golf. “He worked things out himself. Byron Nelson took a different approach, reaching out eagerly for advice on his game and his future.”
The Grouts were quite the golf family. Dick won the Oklahoma Open and State PGA Championship multiple times and played in the 1926 PGA Championship as well as the 1929 U.S. Open. Younger brother Raymond (Dutch) played in the 1934 U.S. Open. Jenny, the youngest Grout sibling, was one of Oklahoma’s greatest female players.
While Jack tried to make it as a player, his notoriety came as the man who taught golf to Jack Nicklaus, who owns five PGA Championships among 18-lifetime professional major titles.
“Dad never made a big deal out of a lot of things,” said PGA Life Member Dick Grout, 67 and named after his uncle. “While coaching Jack Nicklaus, dad rarely was on the practice tee at a major. I think dad’s understated manner was what appealed to students like Jack.”
Nicklaus followed Grout’s tutelage until 1989, when cancer claimed his longtime coach. In 2015, Grout was inducted into GOLF Magazine World Golf Teachers Hall of Fame. Those who believe Grout taught just one prodigal student are short-changing the legendary coach. Among the others he helped includes Tommy Aaron, Joe Turnesa, Dow Finsterwald, Ben Crenshaw, Grier Jones, DeWitt Weaver, Marty Fleckman, J. C. Snead, Gibby Gilbert, Jerry Heard, Roger Maltbie, Tom Purtzer, Wadkins, Bruce Devlin, Jim Colbert, Butch Baird, George Burns III, Jerry McGee, Fred Ridley, Steve Melnyk and Olin Browne.
Raymond Floyd credited Grout’s instruction and encouragement in helping him win what he called “my most cherished victory,” the 1986 U.S. Open.
Additionally, Grout gave advice to LPGA Tour professionals, including Barbara Romack, Jo Ann Prentice, Maria Astrologes, Beth Stone, Kathy Cornelius, Kathy Farrer, Dianne Dailey, Silvia Bertolaccini, Sandra Spuzich and Sally Little. Never a self-promoter, Grout was the prototypical golf professional, ensuring his students came first.
From his home in Conyers, South Carolina, Dick Grout has often reflected on his father’s perch in golf history. Like many players prior to World War II, they served apprenticeships in the caddie yard where sharing of golf knowledge took place.
“Champions like Walter Hagen, Gene Sarazen, Nelson, Hogan and Sam Snead said that they “never learned from anyone,” said Dick. “While this may be technically true, they indisputably all learned from one another.”