He is like thousands of others, passionate about golf and consumed with a desire to compete. That is why six years after he packed in his PGA Tour career and several years since being reinstated as an amateur, Gary Nicklaus is going to give it another shot.
You read correctly: At 40, the third of Jack Nicklaus’s four sons is mounting a comeback. He has entered the PGA Tour Qualifying Touranment and will tee it up in a pre-qualifier Sept. 22-25 at the Golf Club of Dallas.
Ask him why and the answer is simple.
“I love the game of golf and I miss playing,” said Nicklaus, who has 100 PGA Tour tournaments to his credit and played as a card-carrying member in 2000-02.
Nicklaus knows the road is a long, arduous one, and that skeptics abound. But citing the full support of his wife, Amy, and children, he is following his heart and trying to quench a thirst that has never waned.
“I feel as if I am a better golfer now than I was when I played professionally and on the PGA Tour,” he said. “I am in a different place in my life and I am hopeful that my maturity level could lend itself to more success on the golf course.”
The highlight to Nicklaus’s PGA Tour career was the 2000 BellSouth Classic. Plagued by rain, the tournament was cut to 54 holes and officials waited patiently for a break in Sunday’s weather to conduct a playoff between Gary Nicklaus and Phil Mickelson, both of whom were 11 under.
The lefthander made swift work of things, hitting a high, soft draw hole-high at the par-3 16th. When Nicklaus followed with an 8-iron that he hit a bit heavy and buried beneath the lip of a bunker, it was game, set, match.
“It would have been very nice for him to have been able to break through and get his first tournament win,” Mickelson said that day. “(But) I didn’t want it to be at my expense. So I don’t feel bad about that at all.”
Nicklaus maintained his PGA Tour card in 2000, but lost it in 2001 and was forced back to Q-School. In one of the most memorable Q-School finals that fall, golf’s first couple – Jack and Barbara Nicklaus – walked around Bear Lakes to cheer on Gary as he made it through alongside such names as medalist Pat Perez, Ty Tryon, Luke Donald, Boo Weekley, Ben Crane, John Senden, Peter Lonard, and Brett Wetterich.
Two years later, Gary Nicklaus left the PGA Tour and focused on working in the family business.
“I have been very involved in growing our Nicklaus family business and have thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to take a greater leadership role in doing that,” Gary Nicklaus said.
But in recent years the amateur tournaments in which he has competed (he won the 2008 Palm Beach Kennel Club County Amateur) have also convinced Gary Nicklaus that the competitive fires still burned.
“I want to compete at the highest level,” he said.
If he were to make it through to the final stage, it would mean a return to Bear Lakes, a 36-hole complex in West Palm Beach that his father designed.
“I won’t have to travel far,” said Nicklaus, though he insisted he’s not looking that far ahead. “If I am fortunate enough to get through this pre-qualifying stage, we’ll just take it from there.”
One flavorful slice to Nicklaus’ spot in the Dallas pre-qualifier is this: Another entrant at that site will be Sam Saunders, Arnold Palmer’s grandson.
Palmer blood and Nicklaus blood teeing it up in the same tournament? Hey, with the days of “The Big Three” fading further in the rear view mirror by the hour, it will have to serve the purpose.
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The usual overload of entrants into the Q-School parade has once again forced pre-qualifying, with five sites on tap.
Two of them get underway Tuesday. At Lake Jovita in Dade City, Fla., the field will include Andrew Giuliani, former Vanderbilt standut Jon Curran, and Brandt Snedeker’s brother, Haymes. The field at East Valley in Beaumont, Calif., will include Dan Woltman; Derek Fathauer’s brother, Daryl; and Izzy Beisiegel.
A third site will commence Wednesday, with Mike Van Sickle among those teeing it up at Yankee Hill CC in Lincoln, Neb.
The other two pre-qualifiers will be held next week at the Golf Club of Dallas and Black Horse GC in Seaside, Calif.
Eleven first-stage sites will commence Oct. 19.