Editor’s note: Golfweek’s Jim Achenbach spoke recently with Jim Flick about his legacy as a golf instructor. Jim Flick died at 1:20 p.m. on Nov. 5 at his home in Carlsbad, Calif., according to his family. He was 82 and had suffered from pancreatic cancer.
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Though cancer has invaded his body, Jim Flick wanted only to talk about his “kids” and how their golf instruction will continue as they mature into grownup golfers.
“I’m at peace,” said the 82-year-old Flick, speaking on the telephone from his home in Carlsbad, Calif., “and my thoughts are entirely with my kids. We’re taking steps to make sure they keep learning the game the way it’s supposed to be played.”
Flick always has referred to his young students as his kids, just as he formally addresses adults as “Mr. Tom (Lehman)” and “Mr. Jack (Nicklaus)” and so forth.
Lehman and Nicklaus happen to be Flick’s best-known students, although the instructor would be pleased with simple recognition as the coach of hundreds of junior golfers. Included in that number is Beau Hossler, the 17-year-old Flick pupil who contended through three rounds of the 2012 U.S. Open at The Olympic Club.
Now Lehman and others will attempt to carry the torch for a proposed Jim Flick Junior Golf Foundation.
“Junior golf has been his biggest passion in the last 10 or 15 years,” Lehman said. “We want to start with the kids he works with now, to follow through with them so they can pursue their dreams and goals. Then we want to turn to junior golf in general.
“TaylorMade is behind this. Jack Nicklaus is behind this. Arnold Palmer is behind this. I know it’s something Jim would appreciate, and there will be something that honors Jim’s memory through junior golf.”
Mark King, chief executive officer of TaylorMade Golf and the man who brought Flick to California and designated him as TaylorMade’s personal “ambassador of golf,” also is deeply involved in the project.
A few months ago, Flick was still traveling and teaching. The cancer had not been diagnosed, although he said, “I just started feeling that something was wrong.” Tests revealed cancer of the pancreas.
“I’m in the final stage of pancreatic cancer,” Flick said. “It has spread. All I can say is that I’ve been very, very lucky. I’m still trying to pay back to the game whatever I can.”
After visiting Flick, Lehman said, “We’re looking at a tremendous legacy. Jim has been an extraordinary teacher. No one understands the golf swing better than he does.
“Jim’s greatest quality is that he is such a wonderful person. As good a teacher as he is – and he’s a Hall of Fame teacher – he’s an even better person. He uses that kind spirit to make people feel special.
“All the conversations I’ve had with him have been equally as important as the golf lessons.”
Although the Jim Flick Junior Golf Foundation is only a concept at this point, many friends and associates of Flick’s will attempt to lay the groundwork.
“Mark (King) has seen me every day since I became sick,” Flick said. “He came to me seven years ago and said, ‘I want to give you the chance to finish your career in dignity,’ and he’s been very loyal and very consistent.”
As an instructor, Flick began working closely with Lehman in 1989 and Nicklaus in 1990. Over the years, Flick had been very close to Jack Grout, the late Columbus, Ohio, professional who guided the golf development of the young Nicklaus.
“When it comes to teachers, Jim has never been a big self promoter,” Lehman said. “But when Jack Grout was no longer available, who did Jack Nicklaus turn to? He turned to Jim Flick.
“The story Jim likes to tell is from the (1996) U.S. Open at Oakland Hills. Jack Nicklaus and I were both on the range, about 15 feet apart. He was hitting big high fades, and I was hitting big high draws. And there was Jim Flick, teaching two guys who were exactly the opposite. He doesn’t teach a method; he teaches golfers – to help each one get the ball flight he wants.”
Flick grew up in Bedford, Ind., and attended Wake Forest on a basketball scholarship. During his sophomore year, he roomed for six months with Arnold Palmer, who was a junior. Flick became a golf professional after graduation in 1952.
He has written a number of golf-instruction books and was named PGA Teacher of the Year in 1988. He is a member of the World Golf Teachers Hall of Fame and the PGA Golf Professional Hall of Fame. Before moving to California in 2005, he was director of instruction at Desert Mountain in Scottsdale, Ariz.
Despite his discomfort, Flick wanted to talk about the golf swing. His beliefs and principles are well-known and have not changed in recent years.
“The best players learn how to use and feel the clubhead,” he said. “It is crucial to be able to make adjustments, to feel how to make adjustments.
“Trying to create a perfect swing places too much emphasis on positions. When you do that, it’s too easy to get tight and lose your rhythm. The modern rotary swing takes the feel out of the swing; golfers become robotic and can’t make adjustments.
“There are three things I’d like to pass on:
“One, the swinging of the arms must turn the shoulders on both sides of the arc. The shoulders cannot control the golf swing. The shoulders react to what the hands and arms are doing.
“Two, the hands and arms sense how to use the head of the club.
“Three, golfers should change direction (of their shots) with the feet. Locking up the lower body takes away the feel and rhythm of the golf swing.”
Flick stressed that “with the body in control, you can’t hit all the clubs. You can hit some clubs, but not all clubs. We’ve let the game be taken over by science. Golf is an art form. The golf swing is an athletic movement. Becoming mechanical and robotic is the worst thing you can do.”
Flick sighed and repeated how thankful he has been for a life in golf.
“I’ve been the luckiest guy on the face of the earth,” he said, “and I want everybody to know how grateful I am.”