“If you would watch Tiger Woods, Lee Westwood, Vijay Singh, Ernie Els, any of them, and you’re 200 yards away, (do their swings) look the same today as 10 years ago?’’
The Golden Bear’s answer, basically, is “no,’’ but he doesn’t make it quite that simple. The unidentified subject matter, of course, is Tiger Woods, who seem to go through more swing changes than Charlie Sheen does girlfriends.
The Striped One looks to be having trouble with the changes being made by his latest swing coach, Sean Foley, who replaced Hank Haney, who replaced Butch Harmon.
“Put it this way,’’ Nicklaus said at this week’s Honda Classic in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. “If they are 200 yards away and each of them swings, I know who it is. Arnold Palmer, Gary Player Tom Watson, I don’t care who it is. What I’m saying this their swing is not going to change much.
“My swing, did I make changes? I made changes constantly in my swing. That’s how you get better. If you don’t make changes, you don’t improve. I don’t care who you are, because your body continually changes. I mean, my body at age 46 (when he won the 1986 Masters) certainly a lot different than it was at age 25, and/or at 35. And Tiger’s body (is) a lot different at age 30 — is he 35 now — than it was at age 25.’’
Understood. But does the swing really change?
“Not really,’’ Nicklaus said. “He’s (Woods) got a beautiful golf swing. He’s always had a beautiful golf swing. But you always continually tweak things that you do within that golf swing to try to improve it. Sometimes you’re successful and sometimes you’re not.’’
Nicklaus said the biggest swing change he ever made came in 1980.
“In ’79, I had the worst year I ever had, it’s the only year I didn’t win a tournament, after 17 straight years or something like that,’’ Nicklaus said. “I got very vertical in my golf swing. You wouldn’t have noticed it to look at it. But I noticed it. And from August 3 until the first of the year, I touched a golf club three times. I wanted to get rid of all of my bad habits.
“So when I started back out in January with Jack Grout, I said, ‘Okay, let’s start over.’ We started with grip, stance, posture, everything. But the biggest thing we started out with was too shallow out my arc. If you took my swing and said, yeah, I’m sure that Peter Kostis could use his little magic thing or whatever it is and see something different. But it still looked like Jack Nicklaus either way.’’
Grout was Nicklaus’ legendary coach from 1950 until his death in 1989, but unlike many swing gurus today, he never sought or gained rock star status. Grout, Nicklaus said, “never set foot one time’’ on a practice tee.
“He came to a lot of golf tournaments. You never saw him on the practice tee. He taught me to be able to make my own changes, make my own adjustments, work on the things that I needed to work on so I could concentrate and I could understand how to play the game,’’ Nicklaus said. “That was the important thing; that I knew how to play the game. Jack Grout didn’t care about that he knew how I had to play the game. He wanted me to know how to play the game.
“A lot of times the guys run back to their swing coach too much. I mean, Bobby Jones sat with me when I was 19 years old in his cabin at Augusta and he said, ‘Jack, I had my seven lean years,” from the time he was 14 to 21 is what it was. He said, “I kept running back to Stewart Maiden.” And he says, “Until I learned and he taught me how to not run back to him, when I did that, then I became a golfer.”
A swing lesson from Bobby Jones and Jack Nicklaus. It doesn’t get better than that.