Jack Nicklaus is smarter than the average bear. Smarter even than the average Golden Bear.

Perhaps more than any other major star of the game – past or present, Nicklaus can explain the intricacies of golf so that those of us who shoot in the 90s and long for the 80s and dream about the 70s can understand. He can’t make us play like him, but his tips normally are spot on.

Why don’t we take his advice more often?

For example, a prominent tip in the Nicklaus arsenal of advice for the regular golfer involves picking a club for an approach shot. In various articles over the years, Nicklaus has recommended that, in most cases, everyday golfers should figure out the distance to the green, identify the iron needed for that shot and then take one more club. If you assume you need a 7 iron for a 150-yard shot, for example, on most holes Nicklaus would put a 6 iron in your hand.

This doesn’t always work, of course, but in most cases it’s solid advice. A perfect 7 iron might sail 150 yards and drop down around the pin. But how many times – no offense — are you going to hit a perfect 7 iron? Nicklaus understands that many of us are not quite as good as we think we are. Adding a club provides a bit of security.

I tried this during a round recently, and it worked five out of six times. The other time my ball zoomed past the green and down a bank into some gnarly rough. I got mad at Jack for that one, but five out of six? I’ll take that on most days.

If it makes you feel uncomfortable, like you might be putting too much syrup on the pancakes, couple Jack’s advice with this swing thought: You’re hitting uphill to the green, so you need an extra club. (You’re not really hitting uphill, but go with it. You might convince the golf part of your brain that it’s a good idea).

This concept often works for me, with the vivid exception of hitting over water. In my book, water is evil on golf courses (I’ll allow it in the restrooms). Pals tell me as I am stepping to the tee on a par 3 that requires a carry over water that the water really isn’t there – just pretend that it’s dry land.

Hah. I am not that easily fooled. I can tell it’s water because I can see the waves rippling in the wind, and I can almost see the underwater monster waiting hungrily for my ball. So I automatically retreat to my golf bag and get a scarred and dirty ball that no self-respecting golfer would play. Can’t send a ball that actually cost me money into the vast deep.

What would Jack say?

Mike Hembree

Mike Hembree is a veteran journalist who has covered a variety of sports for numerous publications and websites, including USA Today, Fox Sports, TV Guide and The Greenville (S.C.) News. He has written 14 books and has won numerous writing awards at the national, regional and state levels. He is a seven-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.