ORLANDO, Fla. – Jack Nicklaus is not pretending that everything is humming on all cylinders heading into the PNC Father/Son Challenge.
He has right shoulder issues that have prevented him from playing much tennis for several months. He plays golf only occasionally, roughly a dozen times a year or perhaps a little more.
Nicklaus claims a practice session on Wednesday was the first one he’d had on a practice tee since 2005.
But when grandson Gary “G.T.” Nicklaus Jr., his teammate this week, iterated Friday that “if we play well, we play well” when the competition starts Saturday, the Golden Bear playfully interjected.
“No, it’s not if we play well,” Jack said.
Grandson got the memo.
“We’re going to play well,” Gary Jr. retorted.
The pair make up one of 20 teams competing in the two-day event at The Ritz-Carlton Golf Club Orlando, Grande Lakes. For the first time at this tournament, the 15-year-old grandson will accompany his 77-year-old grandfather.
And they should make for an interesting team.
Jack Nicklaus’ credentials are known: the 18 major titles, 73 PGA Tour wins and stake as arguably the greatest golfer in the history of the game.
His partner boasts plenty of his own chops, though.
Among Nicklaus’ 22 grandchildren, Gary Jr. is considered the only one “that plays golf properly.” The teenager also possesses a combination of strength and finesse that might remind one of his grandfather.
“He’s got really strong legs, he’s a strong kid,” Jack said. “(He) hits it a long way (and) he’s got pretty good touch.”
But while the Father/Son doesn’t exactly entail U.S. Open pressure, this is golf with big names in front of crowds on TV.
It’d be understandable if Gary Jr. struggled in his first appearance under that extra attention. He feels the exact opposite.
“It’s a new experience for me. I like it, it’s fun,” Gary Jr. said. “I like the pressure when you’re hitting a putt, and you have people watching. … It helps me.”
That sentiment may arise from the fact that the teenager already finds comfort in performing in front of people.
Gary Jr. performs in a rock band at school and knows how to play the guitar and the piano. He also sings and has started writing his own songs in the last year or so. This artistic side has allowed Gary Jr. to become acquainted with attention, something with which his grandfather can relate.
“He likes being in front of people,” Jack said. “I always looked at playing golf to be out in front of people was fun. And I think he has pretty much the same attitude.”
The 15-year-old does harbor pro golf dreams – he recently shot 82 from tournament tees in a trip to Augusta National with his grandfather – but he has mixed the sport at least a little into his music.
While Gary Jr. quipped that the songs he writes are mainly about “girls,” he has added a golf tune to the arsenal.
That would be “Drive For Show, Putt For Dough,” a song he entitled after hearing his grandmother Barbara (Jack’s wife) say that phrase often.
Gary Jr. said he wrote it when he was bored one day. He offered one of the song’s lines, which goes: You can hit it far, you can hit it straight, but it doesn’t matter if you can’t make the putts.
Can the duo produce a winning tune on the golf course this weekend in Orlando?
It’ll be a tall task, especially with one rookie in tow. But after his grandson adjusted his stance on how they would perform, the Golden Bear couldn’t help admire that they’re on the same page.
“We’re going to play well, that’s a good attitude,” Jack said with a laugh.