Aurora, Colo. – Karen Mills was simply in heaven.
Not only was her son, David, competing in his first U.S. Amateur, the 20-year-old Indiana University junior was grouped with Gary Nicklaus, the son of 18-time major champion Jack Nicklaus.
As David played his first stroke-play round on Monday afternoon at CommonGround Golf Course – the companion course to Cherry Hills Country Club for the qualifying rounds – Karen was chatting it up with Barbara Nicklaus, Gary’s mother.
Jack and Barbara flew to Colorado to watch their son compete in his sixth Amateur, but first in 21 years. Gary played three years on the PGA Tour and, after leaving professional golf in 2003, was reinstated as an amateur in 2006. Like any parents, Barbara and Jack quietly watched as Gary posted a 1-over 71.
Everyone else, including Karen Mills, was just excited to be near one of the game’s greatest golfers. She posed for several pictures with Barbara and Jack.
“What a treat for us to be here,” said Karen Mills, who had Gary and Jack sign a pair of flags, one of which will be auctioned at a fund-raiser for an Evansville, Ind., elementary school where Karen is a first-grade teacher. Classes began this week, so Karen is playing hooky to be in Colorado.
“Barbara and Jack were absolutely delightful,” she said. “They are so down-to-earth. [Barbara] is the classiest person and funny. I just loved the day.”
David Mills, who shot 72, recognized Jack Nicklaus in the small gallery, but did his best to remain focused and not think about who was watching.
“His son is a good player and I really enjoyed it,” said Mills, a business major at IU. “I tried to put the blinders on and go.”
Barry Dyche, of Charlotte, N.C., went four shots better than Mills, shooting a 2-under 68 to lead the threesome. The 36-year-old financial advisor for Franklin Templeton has had quite a week so far at the Amateur, having played two practice rounds with Robert Mize, the son of 1987 Masters champion Larry Mize, who was caddieing for Robert. Then he had Jack Nicklaus watching from the gallery on Monday.
“Can’t do much better than that,” said Dyche of his first three days at the Amateur. “But [Jack] is a typical dad out there watching.”
Dyche, who grew up in the Florida Panhandle and played golf at Florida State, talked quite a bit with Gary, whose nephew, Nick O’Leary, is a tight end for the Seminoles and was a high school All-American. Dyche was pleased to put himself in good position for match play. The trio will play Cherry Hills on Tuesday morning.
“It’s all a bonus for me,” said Dyche, who lost in the first round of last year’s U.S. Mid-Amateur, his first USGA championship.
Other competitors and spectators gathered around Jack Nicklaus post-round as he answered a few questions from the local media.
Afterward, he signed memorabilia and posed for pictures. Reigning U.S. Junior Amateur champion Andy Hyeon Bo Shim had a group picture taken with his parents.
Shim, 17, was surprised to learn that the Junior Amateur is the only USGA championship Nicklaus competed in and never won. Nicklaus appeared five times, once reaching the semifinals. Nicklaus owns eight USGA titles (two Amateurs, four Opens and two Senior Opens).
Winning the U.S. Junior Amateur certainly has its perks, including exemptions into the U.S. Amateur and the U.S. Amateur Public Links, if eligible. When Shim rallied from a 5-down deficit to beat 2010 champion Jim Liu last month at The Golf Club of New England, it caught the attention of Sports Illustrated.
In this week’s issue, Shim’s picture appears on the Faces in the Crowd page, a long-running SI feature.
“I got an email, but I didn’t have time to check it,” said Shim after shooting a 2-over 72 at CommonGround. “It’s definitely the biggest [magazine] I have ever appeared in.”
Monday would have been legendary golfer Ben Hogan’s 100th birthday. The four-time U.S. Open champion certainly has history at Cherry Hills. In 1960, he was in contention to win a record fifth Open when his chances ended with a double-bogey 7 at the par-5 17th hole.
The USGA has compiled a photo gallery of Hogan’s accomplishments, which include Open victories in 1948, 1950, 1951 and 1953.
David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at email@example.com.