Scioto plaque recognizes Nicklaus-Grout legacy

The Jack Nicklaus plaque at Scioto Country Club.

The Jack Nicklaus plaque at Scioto Country Club.

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DUBLIN, Ohio –– Though many modern golf fans might associate Jack Nicklaus with Muirfield Village, his roots in the game actually are about 15 minutes south of here, at Scioto Country Club.

On Wednesday, Scioto honored Nicklaus with a plaque on the exact location where the game's all-time major champion learned to play golf, under the watchful eye of the late Jack Grout, Scioto's longtime head professional.

On what is presumed to be the first place that Nicklaus hit a ball, on the Scioto driving range in 1950, a round plaque memorializes the event and the accomplishments of Grout, who died in 1989 at age 79, and Nicklaus.

The plaque reads: In 1950, Jack Nicklaus hit his first golf shot from this location under the watchful eye of Scioto's PGA Golf Professional, Jack Grout, beginning what would become the "greatest career in golf history."

Nicklaus thanked the club, but he spent most of his time reminiscing about Grout.

“He taught me not only how to play golf but how to teach myself to play golf, and I think that was probably the most important lesson that Jack ever gave me," Nicklaus said of his only teacher. “I don't know whether Jack Grout was the best golf teacher in the world or the best golf teacher, period. He was just the best golf teacher to me.”

The impetus for honoring Nicklaus came from longtime friend L. John Bishop, a Scioto member.

According to Greg Wolf, Scioto's general manager, Bishop told the club's leaders: “That of all the things that have happened in golf around the world, there's only one place where the greatest player ever hit his first shot." Bishop wanted not only to honor Nicklaus but also to recognize the role of The Golden Bear's mentor, Grout.

Bishop suggested a gazebo, but the club opted for a plaque. Bishop drafted the initial words, but he died in April at age 93 and would never see the completed work.

• • •

GO-TO AMERICANS: In the 1981 Ryder Cup, U.S. captain Dave Marr had his go-to players from whom he would seek counsel: Raymond Floyd and Lee Trevino.

In 1993, captain Tom Watson would go down the hall at The Belfry and meet with Floyd, Lanny Wadkins and Tom Kite, eventually emerging with a plan.

In recent years, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson have been the leaders of the U.S. teams. They are the players to whom Davis Love III and Fred Couples have looked for guidance and advice.

As you might expect, Woods and Mickelson go about it in different ways – Mickelson the more vocal, quick with a jab, while Woods is more stoic but with a leader's presence.

Neither is competing for the job, but both are available to do what is necessary.

“I’m shocked how much Tiger and Freddie have been talking about things over the last year,” said Love, the 2012 Ryder Cup captain who is serving as Couples' assistant this year. "Fred has been very involved with Phil and Tiger, relying on them.”

• • •

DEMON DEACONS UNITE: Playing in his second Presidents Cup, Bill Haas had many goals but one specific one: partner with fellow Wake Forest alumnus Webb Simpson.

Simpson had such a successful run with Bubba Watson in the 2011 Presidents Cup in Australia, going 3-1, that the former U.S. Open champion never got to play with his fellow Demon Deacon.

Two years later, they've got a second chance.

“I texted him first,” Simpson said of his overture to Haas. “I think it's one of those things where Bubba and I were going to start out and, depending on how things went, Bill was kind of the next choice in Australia who I would like to play with. Bubba and I played great, so we kind of stuck together. I texted (Haas) and said I would love to play, and he agreed.”

According to Simpson, Haas served as a de facto big brother when Simpson debuted on Tour in 2009. They play a lot of practice rounds together, and Simpson considers Haas to be a good friend.

“I won't feel sad or feel bad if I hit a bad shot with Webb,” Haas said. “It's more, I think we'll just be good cheerleaders for each other and hope we'll be comfortable enough that we make a lot of birdies.”

• • •

UNFAMILIARITY IN PAIRINGS: Of the 12 first-day pairings for Thursday, only two – Phil Mickelson-Keegan Bradley and Zach Johnson-Jason Dufner – have been paired together in previous matches.

Neither has been paired in a Presidents Cup; both were in the 2012 Ryder Cup at Medinah.

• • •

THE SWITCH: For the first time since 1996, the opening matches will be contested in four-ball instead of foursomes.

International captain Nick Price and his predecessor, Greg Norman, had asked PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem for many concessions but were granted only this format shuffle.

“When Ernie (Els) and I went to see the commissioner last year ... that was one of the concessions that he made,” Price said. “Both Ernie and I felt it was very important just to change it from the hardest format being an alternate foursomes, to the alternate‑shot foursomes to the better‑ball, so that was a positive move I think; certainly for us it was.”

Of course, the change comes with no guarantee for the Internationals. In 1994, the U.S. was 5-0 in morning four-ball; in 1996, the Americans went 4-1 in morning four-ball.

Since the change to foursomes in 1998, the U.S. has led after the first session four times to the Internationals' three.

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