BY DON CHAPMAN | PHOTOGRAPHY BY MARCO GARCIA

Ko Olina pro Greg Nichols shares his tips for staying the course.

GREG NICHOLS IS LIVING PROOF THAT SMARTS, a friendly smile and a good word can take you a long way. That and a good golf swing.

The director of golf at Ko Olina and former head professional at prestigious Waialae Country Club, Nichols seemed destined for a job in golf-just not as head pro.

“I’ve done so many jobs in golf, including caddie,” says Nichols. “I even ran the kitchen at Hawaii Kai for two years.”

He was working at Honolulu Country Club on the crew building the course when he met and played golf with several principals in the project who were all members at Waialae.

“They encouraged me to apply for an assistant pro position at Waialae,” Nichols says. “I did, and the rest is history.”

After tutoring under the legendary John Kalinka from 1979 to 1986, Nichols became the head pro in ’86 and stayed at WCC until 2002.

As he was at Waialae with the PGA Tour’s Hawaiian and later Sony Open, Nichols is again involved in big-time tournament golf as Ko Olina hosted the LPGA Fields Open for three years, and early this year the Lotte Open, which he’s hopeful of returning to next year. “The LPGA is doing some great things,” he says.

Nichols credits his lifetime of success in golf to an uncle he likens to Dean Martin in demeanor.

“The first time I played, I was about 12,” he recalls. “I was supposed to be home by a certain time to mow the lawn, and I was late, and my dad was pretty upset. But I remember I loved the feeling, just chipping and putting, waiting to play-no parents around, you’re on your own, making your own decisions … So even while shooting 63 for nine holes, I was bit by the golf bug.”

Nichols, who was born in Washington, D.C., first came to Hawai’i to attend University of Hawai’i. He moved onto the University of Maryland where he earned a degree in business administration.

A longtime supporter of junior golf programs, he is known as a terrific teacher. When asked the No. 1 fault he sees in amateurs, he quickly replies, “Overthinking.”

“The beauty of golf is that it takes 1.5 seconds to swing, and that’s if you swing slowly,” he explains. “The rest of it is mental, and there are an infinitesimal number of things to think about. Of course you need to incorporate those things when you’re learning the game. But once you get on the course, you have to let go and react to the target, which is the most important thing with any golf shot.”

While no longer on the Aloha Section PGA board of directors, he is still active with the PGA, including serving as an official at past PGA Championships. “We’re real excited about a number of PGA of America initiatives that promote player development-things like Golf 2.0 and Fit For Golf.”

TIP 1 – GOOD CHIPPING BEGINS WITH A GOOD SETUP

One of the greatest chip shots ever played was at the 1987 Masters, when Larry Mize dramatically chipped his ball into the cup on the 11th hole to beat Greg Norman. Mize later said that the chip shot was really the only shot he could play as he was too far off the green to putt, and a pitch shot was much too dangerous.

So, what is a chip shot-and why is it so valuable to have in your arsenal? The easiest way to think about a chip shot is that it’s the shot in between a putt and a pitch shot. The difference between a chip and a pitch is that a chip maintains a lower trajectory, so your ball is in the air a minimum amount of time, yet on the ground rolling for the maximum amount of time. A pitch, on the other hand, is a higher trajectory shot with your ball staying in the air longer than it is on the ground.

The chip shot is a low-risk, high-return shot that’s easy to learn and simple to execute once you understand how to get set up correctly. Of course, the very lowest risk shot when you’re just off of the green is a putt, and I recommend everyone to always consider that option first. However, if you can’t putt, a chip shot is the next best alternative and much safer than the pitch.

There are three simple keys to getting set up correctly to hit a chip shot.

1. STANCE: Set up with a slightly open stance with your forward foot (left foot for a right-handed golfer) a few inches farther away from the target line than your rear foot. This allows you to see the target line more clearly and gets your lower body out of the way, while also minimizing the amount of lower body action needed to allow your arms to swing freely through to the target.

2. BALL POSITION: Set up with the ball just inside your rear foot (or your right foot for a right-handed golfer).

This automatically helps place your hands, arms and club in the correct position, with the shaft of the club leaning slightly forward toward your target and your hands off of your forward leg.

3. WEIGHT: Set up with more of your weight placed on your forward foot-about 90 percent of it. This will help automatically minimize the lower body action needed and encourage the correct descending stroke onto the ball.

To execute the swing, you want to have a slight wrist cock on the backswing and then accelerate down and through the ball, holding off your follow through with a firm-wristed finish. You can clearly see this action in the photograph.

One of the biggest swing mistakes we see a beginner or high-handicap golfer make is thinking they need to somehow get the club underneath the ball and help the ball up into the air. This results in a scooping action and a cupped left wrist, and causes both fat and thin shots.

Mize shared with me that his key swing thought when chipping was he felt he was brushing the grass, similar to how it would feel if he had a broom and was simply brushing leaves toward the target. I’m sure Mize also was set up correctly!

TIP 2 – THE ANSWER, MY FRIEND, IS BLOWING IN THE WIND

I’m not sure if Bob Dylan has ever played golf, but if he has, he certainly would have wanted to know the answer to playing into an especially strong headwind. Golfers have been looking for the same answer ever since the early Scots invented this wonderfully challenging game.

Playing successfully in the wind starts with having a positive attitude, yet also requires good technique and proper course management. If you dread playing in the wind or curse your luck every time your hair gets tousled, forget about it-no amount of technique will help you.

The very best players learn to lower their expectations when playing in a strong wind. They understand that the wind presents an added challenge and it’s going to cause them to hit some shots worse than normal, their scores hedging higher as a result. They learn to laugh off their bad shots and indeed, almost relish the experience, as they know the tough conditions will separate them from their competition- especially from those with negative attitudes.

I was fortunate to attend the 1992 U.S. Open played at Pebble Beach, one of America’s most famous links-style courses. The wind came up on the last day and only two players were able to shoot under par, diminutive Jeff Sluman with 70, and Colin Montgomerie (a Scot, by the way) with a 71.

But the winner was Tom Kite, who grew up in windy Texas and was able to manage an even par 72. Notable major champions such as Scott Simpson, Paul Azinger, Mark Calcavecchia, Craig Stadler and Payne Stewart didn’t break 80.

Good technique starts with understanding that the best shot in the wind is a solid, well-struck drive. Solid shots are produced by swinging with good tempo and most importantly, staying in balance. So, you really don’t need to do anything that much different from a technique standpoint than playing on a calm day. A strong head wind causes a player to feel the need to swing faster or harder, which produces wild, out-of-balance swings and weak, miss-hit shots. The timeless adage is, “In the breeze, swing with ease!”

Good course management involves making the wind your friend. That means not trying to fight the wind, but instead respecting the power of the wind and allowing for it in planning your shots.

On full swings into the wind, you should take extra club to encourage a smooth, rhythmic and balanced swing. If the yardage calls for a 9-iron, select a 7-iron or even a 6-iron instead. A great tip prior to playing a shot into the wind is to take a practice swing in the opposite direction, with the wind at your back. That will encourage the feeling of the correct, effortless swing you need to make when you have to turn back into the wind to play the shot.

On the little approach shots around the green, try to keep the ball out of the wind as much as possible by putting or chipping whenever possible. In putting, adopt a wider stance than normal, which will help brace you and keep you balanced. This will allow you to hit the ball more solidly, which should be your primary goal in managing the wind.