The Jack Nicklaus Swing Evolution Over The Years

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The Golden Bear won 18 major championships in his PGA Tour career, and his success prompted many to unsuccessfully replicate his swing. Over time Jack Nicklaus altered his golf swing to account for a loss of flexibility and core strength. In this post, we journey through the Jack Nicklaus swing as he aged to see how he still gets around the links.

By the end of this post, you will know the swing differences between the youthful and veteran Nicklaus. You will notice that his backswing is shorter and his attack angle steeper to account for his changing physique.

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Jack Nicklaus Swing Sequence Old vs New

As Nicklaus aged, he began to reduce the arch of his backswing and his shoulder and hip rotation. Although he retained the same head position, stability, and take away angle, he altered his range of motion, swing plane, and impact point. In this section, I dive into the changes the golf Hall of Famer endured during the course of his career.

Higher Hands

The most blatantly obvious difference is the position of his hands at the top of the backswing. Jack would get his hands higher than his right shoulder at the top of the backswing in his younger years, positioning the clubface far away from the ball for an extended route down to impact.

By getting the hands up this high, the clubhead would almost point to the target at the top and give him maximum leverage on the downswing. Fast forward a few decades, and you notice that golf’s most successful major winner lowered his hand position at the top.

In this video of the Jack Nicklaus swing plane, you notice that his hands are almost level with his right shoulder at the top of the backswing. Golf coaches suggest he employed this alteration due to the onset of spine stiffness.

Jack Nicklaus Swing – Old vs New

Increased Upper Body Turn

As a strapping young lad, Mr. Nicklaus managed to induce maximum upper body from the takeaway position to the top of the backswing. This turn enabled the Ohio native to take the golf club back vertically to achieve maximal range of motion.

However, spine stiffness prevented Jack from achieving his previous top-of-the-swing position as his career progressed. Instead of getting his hands high above his right shoulder, his reduced turn sent the hands level with the right shoulder.

The position of his hands at the top of the swing led to a loss of depth and range at the top, hampering his clubhead speed and power into contact. Naturally, the reduced distance from the top to his ball position led to slower club head speed and less power and length than his younger self had managed.

Added Hip Rotation

My late father frequently showed me videos of the grandfather of 22, as he would clear his hips on the backswing to increase his range of motion. Nicklaus provided an exemplary display of how hip rotation on the backswing enables you to get inside at the top, as far away from the golf ball as possible.

The further the clubhead has to travel on the downswing, the more power and velocity you build up, leading to impact. Although Jack did rotate his hips more as a youngster, the difference was not as noticeable as the change in upper body turn we explored earlier.

As a result of his added hip turn on the takeaway, his left foot would lift off the ground when he reached the top, signaling a weight shift to the trail leg. In this clip (above), you see how Jack’s lead foot is flat, which highlights a reduction in mass transfer to his right side.

Increased Range Of Motion

What allowed Nicklaus to muster up incredible clubhead speed was his range of motion. Clearing his hips on the backswing gave him room to take the club inside early before raising his hands above his right shoulder at the top.

However, his hip rotation only contributed partly. The remainder of the work was conducted by his upper body. He turned his shoulders significantly in his younger years to help maximize his backswing and boost his range of motion.

Over his career, the 117-time winner reduced his range of motion, stemming from less shoulder and hip turn on his backswing. Clubhead velocity was not measured in Jack’s prime. However, when he eventually got around to it at 58, his driver swing speed clocked in at 118 mph, so imagine what that would have been in his thirties.

Angle Of Attack

Viewing the old and new Jack Nicklaus swing plane, I found he operated with a two plane golf swing setup, meaning the club follows a different path on the way down to the backswing. Where it changed was the steepness of his attack angle.

As a youngster, the Jack Nicklaus golf swing would reach an incredibly high point above the right shoulders on the top of the backswing. Then he would use his rotation to bring the shaft parallel to the ground before impact, shallowing it out for a square clubface at contact.

On the contrary, the older Jack lacked the luxury of optimal shoulder and hip turn leading to less range of motion. As a result, the lower position of his hands at the top encouraged a steeper angle of attack into impact, prompting a reduction in clubhead and ball speed.

Jack Nicklaus Equipment Evolution


Jack was swinging wooden drivers and incredibly refined blades with stainless steel shafts at the height of his career. He mainly remained loyal to MacGregor for his driver needs until switching to his own branded big stick in 1996.

Nicklaus understood the etymology of “hitting it out the screws” as the sweet spot was generally surrounded by four screws. Compared to his Air Bear Titanium driver he switched to in the mid-90s, his original big sticks offered restricted forgiveness with a severely reduced clubhead size compared to the modern 460 cc design.

Nicklaus was accustomed to stiff shaft designs before swinging the MacGregor Jack Nicklaus Muirfield 20th driver. These big sticks provided limited rebound into contact, offering reduced energy transfer and ball speed assistance.

However, as he entered the 1990s, he started swinging graphite shafts, which offered increased flexibility and release on the downswing.

Jack Nicklaus Irons

As for Jack Nicklaus’s irons, his club designer Clay Long explains the Bears demands remained relatively consistent throughout his career. Nicklaus opted for flat sole irons, which provided limited bounce forgiveness through the turf for greater control into contact.

In addition, he carried a sharp toe structure and minor offset in the irons to optimize his workability.

Jack Nicklaus Putter

The Golden Bear operated with the George Low Wizard 600 for 15 of his 17 major wins, which provided the appearance of a traditional flat-blade putter, where leniency was limited. As 1985 rolled around, Jack showed interest in Tom Watson’s latest putter by Karsten Solheim, the Ping Pal putter.

Watson’s flat stick was long and packed with an improved moment of inertia (MOI) to boost stability and prevent spin and topspin dropoff. Nicklaus consulted Long, and he got to work, eventually crafting the MacGregor Response ZT 615.

The “ZT” acronym stood for zero twist, built to stabilize and square the clubface at impact for improved accuracy. This putter would lead the six-time Masters champion to his final Green Jacket in 1986.

Arguably one of the most famous Jack Nicklaus putting images is with the Response ZT 615 in hand on the 17th green at Augusta. His MacGregor putter highlighted the shift into an era of forgiving, consistent golf equipment that even professionals could enjoy.

Tips To Avoid The Challenges Of Jack Nicklaus Golf Swing

Sometimes the biggest problem is in your head. You've got to believe you can play a shot instead of wondering where your next bad shot is coming from. - Jack Nicklaus Quote and showing a photo of him

Walk or Run

One noticeable difference between the young and old Nicklaus was his belly weight, which hampered his range of motion in his senior career. This is in comparison to a golfer like Gary Player, who has kept in shape and given him the best chance of consistently swinging a golf club for years ahead.

Although there are numerous ways to control your body weight, I find walking or running once or twice a week is a good start. In addition, watch what you eat and avoid excess carbohydrates, saturated fats, and sugary foods, which can increase belly fat.

I understand a daily run may be out of the question, but I suggest attempting to walk 3 miles a day minimum for the average golfer.  

Stretch Daily

Daily stretching is essential for remaining flexible into your senior years. I recommend conducting three to four repetitions of 30-second planks to keep your core golf muscles active and strengthened. Well-oiled core muscles enable optimal hip rotation and shoulder turn to mitigate clubhead speed loss.

Besides planks, you can try undertaking three to five sets of 10 knee-to-chest stretches. In addition, I suggest adding rotator cuff exercises to ensure your shoulders remain flexible. The door frame stretch is easy to conduct and requires no equipment other than your doorway. 

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Golf Warm Up Exercises & Pre Round Warm Up

One thing I often see amateur golfers frequently neglecting is their pre-round warm-up, resulting in stiff muscles and tension on the golf course. This concocts a recipe for injury, which can easily be avoided. Aside from hitting a few long shots on the range and putts on the practice green, you have to stretch and activate your core muscles.

One handy tool you can employ is the Orange Whip, which helps awaken your muscles and helps you find your rhythm and tempo. Alternatively, you can grab your driver by the head and rock it back and forth as you warm up your body.

Frequently Asked Questions

Did Jack Nicklaus putt with an open stance?

Yes, Jack Nicklaus putted with an open stance as he found it helped him better visualize the line and strike the ball on the ascent. The design of putters and green inconsistencies demand an ascending strike to impart optimal topspin and clean roll on the golf ball.

How did Jack Nicklaus grip his putter?

The Jack Nicklaus golf grip for putting was a piston setup, where he relied on his arms and induced limited risk action. This golf grip setup allowed him to control the speed of his stroke and made him one of the best flat stick players the PGA Tour and golf have ever seen.

Did Jack Nicklaus have a steep swing?

No, in the prime of his career, Jack Nicklaus managed to shallow his swing leading into impact, despite his steep backswing. However, as the years progressed and his shoulder turn reduced, he started attacking the golf ball from a steep angle to mitigate the loss of rotation.

What grip did Jack Nicklaus use?

The Jack Nicklaus golf grip followed the interlocking setup, where his right would lock between the left index and middle finger. This secured the golf grip in his hands and controlled grip pressure. Besides Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, and Rory McIlroy are the only stand-out names who ply their trade with the interlock grip.

Does Jack Nicklaus still play golf?

Yes, Jack Nicklaus still plays golf. Mr. Nicklaus was recently seen at the 2023 Masters Tournament where he hit an honorary tee shot marking 60 years after his first green jacket win in Augusta, Georgia.

Final Thoughts on Jack Nicklaus Swing

Although he is the most successful major winner in history, our Jack Nicklaus swing adjustments review shows his setup is challenging to replicate. The master generated a range of motion rarely seen before, leading to exceptional clubhead speed, power, and ball-striking abilities.

However, as his career progressed, Jack lacked the shoulder turn and hip rotation he once possessed. Instead, he lowered the position of his hands at the top and shortened his backswing, which caused a loss of momentum and clubhead speed.

In addition, the older Jack Nicklaus found himself attacking the golf ball from a steeper angle as the reduced turn made it challenging to get his body in position, like before. Despite his challenges, Nicklaus has done incredibly well to continue playing the game and shoot his age.

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Matt Callcott-Stevens has lived and breathed golf since he was four. As a junior, he played competitively, until he discovered his talents were better suited to writing about the game. Matt holds a Postgraduate in Sports Marketing through the Johan Cruyff Institute in Barcelona and has provided golf game improvement tips to seniors and the average golfer for seven years.


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