A Nicklaus 'Comeback' At Cherry Hills

Reinstated amateur Gary Nicklaus returns for U.S. Amateur at a place where his famous father, Jack, had historic moments

Gary Nicklaus (left) and his famous father, Jack, chat during Gary's first round of stroke-play qualifying at the 2012 U.S. Amateur on Monday at CommonGround Golf Course in Aurora, Colo. Gary shot a 1-over 71. (John Mummert/USGA)
By Dave Shedloski
August 13, 2012

Gary Nicklaus has an opportunity to take care of some unfinished business this week at the 112th U.S. Amateur Championship at Cherry Hills Country Club in suburban Denver.

Nicklaus has competed in the U.S. Amateur six previous times. It should have been seven. But the last time Cherry Hills hosted the championship, in 1990, his heart just wasn’t in it – not that it was his fault.

Shortly after arriving in Colorado, Nicklaus, a standout at Ohio State University at the time, fell seriously ill and was hospitalized.

Notebook: A 'Golden' Moment At The Amateur
He ended up spending a week in intensive care battling pericarditis, an inflammation of the pericardial sac around the heart, a condition usually caused by a virus.

“It feels good to get another shot at it, maybe get a little revenge,” said Nicklaus, who opened the championship on Monday with a round of 1-over-par 71 at CommonGround Golf Course, the companion course for the championship. He plays Cherry Hills on Tuesday morning.

Son of golf great and 18-time professional major champion Jack Nicklaus, who also owns two U.S. Amateur victories in 1959 and ’61, Gary Nicklaus has traveled a circuitous route back to the championship. His last appearance is a distant 21 years ago when he lost in the first round of match play in 1991 at The Honors Course in the Chattanooga, Tenn., suburb of Ooltewah.

A professional career beckoned in 1994, and he eventually played three years on the PGA Tour, from 2000-02. His career-best finish was second place at the 2000 BellSouth Classic, where he lost to Phil Mickelson on the first hole of a sudden-death playoff. (Coincidentally, Mickelson won that 1990 Amateur at Cherry Hills)

Nicklaus spent his last pro season in 2003 primarily on the developmental circuit now known as the Web.com Tour, and he finished with $693,571 in career earnings. Though he soon turned his attention to the Nicklaus Companies, where he serves as vice chairman, the fourth of Jack and Barbara Nicklaus’ five children still harbored a passion for competitive golf.

That hunger compelled Gary to seek amateur reinstatement, which was granted in 2007.

“When I first got my amateur status back, I was excited about playing a little bit,” Nicklaus said. “I played in a couple of local events, and I did well. I have a family, I have a job, so it’s hard to go out and practice as much as you should if you want to be good. There are other choices you have to make. This is my first tournament on a national stage in over 10 years, so it’s a different mindset. It’s a little more exciting. Nothing against our county amateur, but the U.S. Amateur is a different deal.”

Nicklaus, who shot 72-73-145 at The Wanderers Club in Wellington, Fla., to qualify for the 312-player Amateur field, believes he is a different player than the youngster who won the Porter Cup at Niagara Falls Country Club in 1991 and then embarked on a pro career that took him to the best tour in the world.

“I’m probably way more prepared for this,” the 43-year-old Nicklaus said. “If I knew then what I know now about playing golf and how to score and how to better use my time, [my pro career] would have been a lot different.

“I think I’m a better player than I was when I was on the PGA Tour. I drive the ball better. I’m still a good iron player. I think my wedge game was a little sharper back then, but my putting is probably better than when I was on Tour. I wasn’t very good then, but I make my fair share now. I don’t think about anything except hit the ball in the hole.”

Gary is coming off a second-place finish two weeks ago in the Palm Beach Kennel Club County Amateur—where he left a 35-foot tying birdie putt on the lip of the final hole. Nicklaus hasn’t given much thought to the coincidence of returning to Cherry Hills, where his personal history extends to his famous father; Jack, then just a 20-year-old Ohio State student, almost won the 1960 U.S. Open at Cherry Hills, losing to Arnold Palmer in the best post-World War II performance by an amateur. Jack did return in 1993 to win the U.S. Senior Open, the last of his eight USGA titles.

What Gary does think about is winning, which is the point of any endeavor if your name is Nicklaus. And it won’t be his only shot this year in a USGA event; the day after his runner-up finish in the County Amateur, he successfully qualified for the U.S. Mid-Amateur in sectional qualifying at Quail Ridge Country Club in Boynton Beach, Fla. He shot even par-72 with the aid of a seasoned caddie, his father.

“I dragged him out of retirement,” Gary said, laughing.

But before the Mid-Am, which begins Sept. 8 at Conway Farms Golf Club in Lake Forest, Ill., Nicklaus has his “comeback” at Cherry Hills.

“I wouldn’t be playing if that (winning) wasn’t what I was trying to do,” said Nicklaus, who reeled off four consecutive birdies mid-round after a rocky four-over-par start. “I know it’s a great field. It’s the U.S. Amateur, the biggest amateur event in the world, but I also know I’m good enough. And I’ve been working on my game, so my expectation is to play two solid rounds, get into match play and go one hole at a time. We’ll see where that takes me.”

Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based freelance writer whose work has previously appeared on USGA websites. He also is the author of “Golden Twilight,” a book that chronicles Jack Nicklaus’ final tour of all four major championships in 2000.

Get The Rules of Golf App For Your iPhone Or Android Today
Follow the USGA
Become a Facebook Fan of the USGAFollow us on Twitter @USGA
World Amateur Golf Ranking
WAGR Counting Event
Partner Links
AmEx image
AmEx image
AmEx image
AmEx image

The USGA and Chevron have committed to using the game of golf to encourage students in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) disciplines. This commitment has led to the creation of extensive golf-focused STEM teaching tools, and has resulted in charitable contributions to support golf-related programs through Eagles for Education™

At U.S. Open Championships the Chevron STEM ZONE™ is an interactive experience highlighting the science and math behind the game of golf through a variety of hands-on exhibits and experiments.

The partnership has also produced educational materials such as the Science of Golf video series and a nationally-distributed newspaper insert which are provided to teachers as tools to enhance existing curriculum in schools. These lessons teach the science behind the USGA’s equipment testing, handicapping, and agronomy efforts.

For more interactive experiences featuring golf-focused STEM lessons, visit the partnership homepage.

Chevron image

Rolex has been a longtime supporter of the USGA and salutes the sportsmanship and great traditions unique to the game. This support includes the Rules of Golf where Rolex has partnered with the USGA to ensure golfers understand and appreciate the game.

As the official timekeeper of the USGA and its championships, they also provide clocks throughout host sites for spectator convenience.

For more information on Rolex and their celebration of the game, visit the Rolex and Golf homepage.

Rolex image

IBM has partnered with the USGA to bring the same technology, expertise, and innovation it provides to businesses all over the world to the USGA and golf's national championship.

IBM provides the information technology to develop and host the U.S. Open’s official website, www.usopen.com, as well as the mobile apps and scoring systems for the three U.S. Open championships. These real-time technology solutions provide an enhanced experience for fans following the championship onsite and online.

For more information on IBM and the technology that powers the U.S. Open and businesses worldwide, visit http://www.usopen.com/IBM

AmEx image

Lexus is committed to partnering with the USGA to deliver a best-in-class experience for the world’s best golfers by providing a fleet of courtesy luxury vehicles for all USGA Championships.

At each U.S. Open, Women’s Open and Senior Open, Lexus provides spectators with access to unique experiences ranging from the opportunity to have a picture taken with both the U.S. Open and U.S. Women’s Open trophies to autograph signings with legendary Lexus Golf Ambassadors in the Lexus Performance Drive Pavilion.

For more information on Lexus, visit http://www.lexus.com/

AmEx image
American Express

Together, American Express and the USGA have been providing world-class service to golf fans since 2006. By creating interactive U.S. Open experiences both onsite and online, American Express enhances the USGA’s effort to make the game more accessible and enjoyable for fans.

For more information on American Express visit www.americanexpress.com/entertainment

AmEx image