Flashback Jack: Jack Nicklaus shares his tips for mastering this timeless golf art form

March 30, 2020

In the age of the rangefinder, discovering distance on the golf course has become a lost art. For the average golfer, there’s less incentive to understand the green—its edges, depth, contours—than there used to be. If you’ve got a few hundred bucks and a battery, you’re suddenly the click of a button away from distances calculated with laser precision.

With access to that sort of equipment, you’d be hard-pressed to rely upon the old-fashioned method of “pacing off” distances. But in this week’s edition of Flashback Jack, Nicklaus explains how he approaches learning distances, and why having institutional knowledge of the course you’re playing is important, even if you can easily calculate down to the tenth of the yard.

“I don’t ever take a shot if I don’t know the exact distance,” Nicklaus says. “How do I do that when I go out and play a round? Well, when I go out and play a practice round, I pick up a sprinkler, such as the 157 sprinkler. And I take it and I write it down on my little scorecard and I pace it off to the green.”

First, learn your pace. Once you have a consistent stride, the goal is to figure out the distance to the edges of the green.

“Through the years, I’ve paced a lot so my pace is pretty accurate. When I get to the front of the green here, I might come up with 144 yards,” Nicklaus says. “Then I walk off the green, and the green might be 30 yards long, so that means if the green’s 30 yards long then I’ve got 187 yards to the back of the green. I always know my limits, I write that down.”

The key, Nicklaus explains, is to learn the green shape, contour, and design. Not only will that provide you with an intimate knowledge of the course you’re trying to master, but it’ll also give you a good feel for yardage.

“If the pin is 13 yards onto the green then boom, I know exactly,” he says. “I know from my little sheet where that bunker is, where the side of the green is, where all the problems are.”

Simply put, you’re paying dividends for future rounds, both intellectually and mentally. As far as Nicklaus is concerned, knowledge is power.

“Once I have all my information, then I go to my bag, pick the right club out of my bag, figure out what kind of shot I have to play and play it with confidence,” he says.

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