Over the years, as in all walks of life, a wonderful cast of characters has inhabited the USGTF, from both the examining side and the candidate side. These people make indelible impressions on all of us with their uniqueness which makes the fabric of our lives all the more colorful.
One such great character was the late USGTF examiner John Nichols, or “Johnny O” to his friends. He always had a positive outlook on life, upbeat even when adversity might defeat a lesser person. His passion for the game of golf was second to none, and he sought to influence each person he met with that same passion.
John passed away much too young in October 1994 at the age of 47, but for those of us at the USGTF, he will always be remembered. He was an excellent player, having played the Tour in the early 1980s, and had some insightful bits of wisdom that are being shared in writing here for the first time.
Course management – “Make your mistake on the green”
John liked to say this to anyone who failed to get a pitch shot or chip shot on the green. What he meant by this is that if you have a tough up-and-down and your chances of getting up-and-down aren’t that great, make sure the second shot that might not go in is a missed putt (a mistake on the green) and not another missed chip or pitch shot. In other words, get that pitch shot or chip on the green and make sure you have a putt, even if it’s a lengthy one.
John reasoned that it’s easier to make a longer putt than a shorter pitch or chip, so it’s imperative that the second shot for the up-and-down be a putt. How many times have we seen golfers – whether the general public, our students or even ourselves – get too “cute” and try to get a tough pitch shot close to the hole? More often than we care to speculate, such a shot attempt leaves us with another pitch or chip, and sometimes in a worse situation than the original shot left us.
Hit shots with the right hand only
Every now and then, just for fun, John played one-handed using his right hand only. John was remarkably proficient with this method, often making pars and still able to shoot in the 40s for nine holes.
He pointed out that people who come over-the-top are only able to do so because both hands are on the club. If you swing with the right-hand only (for right-handed players), coming over-the-top is virtually impossible. It also teaches the golfer the proper wrist action and late release that so many golfers struggle with.
Swinging with the right hand only produces other benefits. In order to strike the ball cleanly, the golfer must complete his swing to the follow-through. It also teaches the proper clubhead-to-ball relationship at impact. Finally, it helps people learn the proper downswing sequence of lower body, upper body, and arms and hands, because it’s very difficult to swing this way with the arm and hand leading the downswing, as people are able to do with both hands on the club.
Toe the club in for pitch shots from thick rough
Thick rough around the green is a difficult challenge for most players, especially for those who play out of Bermuda grass in the South or in tropical climates. John was okay with the traditional methods of playing this shot, either like a sand explosion shot (where the clubface was opened) or with a square face and a steep angle of descent, but he had a different way of handling this situation. John recommended toeing the club in so that the clubface was closed at a 45° angle, and then taking a normal chip shot swing. By having the toe lead the clubhead into the ball, it would cut through the grass with less resistance. The grass would also open the clubface up to a certain degree, so the golfer doesn’t need to aim farther right to compensate. This shot does take practice, but once you get the hang of it, you might find it ridiculously easy to get the ball fairly close to the hole.
Johnny O’s legacy lives on within the halls of the USGTF and the golfing world. In fact, it’s safe to say that it also lives on in the games of today’s students, because long-timers on the USGTF examining staff are still using his inspiration – and instruction – to influence and teach our current generation of teachers and golfers alike.