Gary Nicklaus, successful businessman, is having fun again on the golf course

Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Gary Nicklaus, successful businessman, is having fun again on the golf course

USGA

Gary Nicklaus, successful businessman, is having fun again on the golf course

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SOUTH BEND – A second-round 71 in the books and a weekend spot secured at his first U.S. Senior Open, Gary Nicklaus left the interview area on a blazing-hot Friday afternoon and found his family.

That’s when Barbara Nicklaus, genial matriarch of golf’s First Family, started subtly nudging her son toward contention. Now that the pressure was off, she noted, he just might fire a third-round 60 on Saturday.

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Yes, 10 under par at Notre Dame’s Warren Golf Course. Talk about Moving Day.

“Sixty,” she cheerily repeated a few minutes later. “Just 60. That’s fair, isn’t it? Sure.”

Steve Stricker may be firmly in control at 14 under par halfway through the 40th edition of this event, but never count out a Nicklaus. Especially not when his gallery is filled with friends and family, including his 79-year-old parents.

Jack Nicklaus, Gary’s legendary father, rode along in a golf cart for the second straight day, yellow cap with the “Golden Bear” logo pulled low.  His wife walked the whole way, even wearing a long-sleeved blouse with her dark slacks in 90-degree heat.

“It’s always fun to watch your child do well,” Barbara Nicklaus said. “I’ve been watching Gary since he was 6 years old. We’ve had a lot of travels with tournaments and fun.”

Next month the Nicklauses will celebrate their 59th wedding anniversary. This long weekend at the Morris Inn and around so many familiar faces at the USGA and beyond is a nice early present from the fourth of their five children.

Gary Nicklaus looks on from the 12th green during the final round of the 2019 Oasis Championship at The Old Course. (Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

“We’ve got all kinds of people here,” Gary Nicklaus said. “We’ve got a good group here. We’re having a good time. Never been to Notre Dame before, but it’s an amazing campus. I’m glad I got to see it.”

An Ohio State Buckeye like his father – who playfully scrawled “Go Bucks” under his autograph on the Michigan Wolverines cap of a young fan from Granger — Gary made sure to go through registration at Notre Dame Stadium with his caddie/son G.T., a 16-year-old with good size and a budding golf career of his own.

Walking the campus this week with his girlfriend, Gary emerged from the Basilica of the Sacred Heart and found a helpful campus police officer waiting for them.

“Are you guys lost?” the officer inquired.

“No,” came the confused reply.

“What are you looking for?” he asked.

“We’re not quite sure.”

“You ever seen the inside of the Golden Dome? How much time do you have?”

That kicked off a two-hour campus tour in the officer’s squad car.

“We went all over campus; it was fantastic,” Gary Nicklaus said. “I am less of a non-Notre Dame fan now than I was.”

He also has evolved on the golf course, where an 11-year career on the PGA and European tours ended in 2002. Four years away from the game brought a different feeling when he finally picked up a club again on the amateur circuit.

“It’s a lot more fun now,” he said this week. “I mean, it was fun for a while when I was younger. When you practice to prepare and you don’t succeed and then you say, ‘OK, well, maybe I need to practice harder,’ and you practice more and you don’t succeed …”

He shook his head.

“What is it, the definition of insanity?” he said. “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result? I got to a point where I was practicing more and more and more and more and getting worse and worse and worse and worse and was like, ‘This is just no fun.’”

Gary Nicklaus, Jr. celebrates hitting a hole-in-one on the ninth tee with his grandfather Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Tom Watson during the Par 3 Contest at the 2018 Masters Tournament. (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Gary Nicklaus threw himself into non-golf diversions, including business. Nine years ago, he hooked up with Camden Capital and founder/CEO John M. Krambeer, who is among those in his gallery this week.

“We’re doing well,” said Nicklaus, listed on the company web site as Chairman of the Board. “Camden Capital, I think we’re managing close to $4.5 billion now. My partner and the executives that run the company, they do a great job. Good people.”

In anticipation of his 50th birthday this January, Nicklaus started to ramp up his game again. He kept one eye on regular PGA Tour Champions competition while continuing to use other parts of his brain in the running of four businesses.

“I’m trying to become a regular on the Senior Tour, but it’s not my job,” he said. “We have four businesses that we own and operate, so it’s not a life-and-death situation. It’s not a demand on my family that I go out and win this week to support my family.”

He smiled.

“But it would be nice to win and put a little extra in there,” he added.

Pleased with his ball-striking and shot-making but still trying to find some magic with the putter, Nicklaus said he’s been able to strike the right balance between his sport and his business interests. The team he has put together in areas such as course design makes sure of that.

“I’ve got good partners, so they take care of that stuff really well, which has allowed me this year to put more time into playing golf,” he said. “But (business) still takes up a good bit of time.”

After helping her son deal with the heartache of unrealized potential and unfair expectations earlier in his career, Barbara Nicklaus is just glad to see Gary enjoying himself more now. Success in the board room has perhaps opened the door for a more rewarding run on the 50-plus golf circuit.

“That’s why he feels like he’s playing better now than he did when he turned pro,” Barbara Nicklaus said.

She thought back to the mid-1970s and recalled a reporter’s question.

“I remember somebody asked Jack when Gary was like 6: ‘What do you think is the right age to start your child playing golf?’” she said. “Jack said, ‘When they can play three holes without chasing frogs.’”

Another knowing smile.

“Gary’s still chasing frogs.”

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