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He's all right, Jack
Jaime Diaz
September 08, 1986
An ex-pro won the Amateur, but it was a lousy week for Nicklauses
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September 08, 1986

He's All Right, Jack

An ex-pro won the Amateur, but it was a lousy week for Nicklauses

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As for the Nicklauses, all three of the family golfers agree that both Gary and Jack II need at least two more years of seasoning before any lasting judgments on their games can be made. "They are both young from the standpoint of being serious about the game," said Jack. "Jackie's got a great attitude, a great temperament, and he's got the desire. He works awful hard. Gary is just starting to work hard at his game. His best is certainly in front of him."

Jack approached Gary after the 9th hole during Gary's bleak opening 79 at Shoal Creek (a course that Jack designed). Jack didn't say much.

"I want a hot dog," said the youngster. So Jack dutifully dashed to a nearby concession stand, but it was one of those days. They had only ham and cheese sandwiches.

"Gary is a very tough little guy," said his father later. "He stopped playing golf completely for a year and a half after he got so much publicity, and that set him back. Now he wants to play again, but it's his decision. I believe in letting a kid be a kid when he's a kid."

Both Gary and Jackie handled the hubbub their famous father attracted with practiced aplomb, the same way each hid any disappointment with his own play.

"After a certain point I was just thinking, Let's get it in without injuring anybody," Jackie joked during a television interview following his 85 on Friday. Did he feel extra pressure with Jack in the gallery? "No," he said simply. "It's nice to have him here. Everything was nice about the week with the exception of my play."

"I know Jackie is embarrassed," said Barbara Nicklaus, who also walked all four of her sons' rounds, "and I know he knows what will be said by others. But he's got a lot of guts, and he understands. He's gonna be fine."

In fact, it was the several hundred spectators watching Jack watch Jack II at Memphis who seemed to suffer the most. They cheered mightily for shots by Jackie that were merely adequate and they froze into nervous silence when he found water or happened to miss a short putt. When Jackie triple-bogeyed the long par-4 13th on Friday, the gallery broke into spontaneous applause, partly out of sympathy and partly to encourage the young Nicklaus.

Both at Memphis and at Shoal Creek, Jack reacted to his sons' efforts with no more than a slight smile or a grim pursing of the lips. Rather than press close to the ropes to see every shot, he sought out remote locations well behind or ahead of the ball, and made almost no eye contact with either son during play. But when Jackie came to the ropes on the back nine Friday to ask his father if he should withdraw rather than risk injury by playing with an aching neck, the softness in Jack's manner showed how much he was suffering with his son. He gently massaged Jackie's neck and in a low voice said, "If you can finish the round, finish it. That's all anybody can ask of you."

Jackie, who graduated from North Carolina in 1985, decided to turn pro after he failed to qualify for the Amateur in August. He received a sponsor's exemption to play at Memphis and was offered three others. He plans to enter two more pro events before beginning competition for his Tour card at the PGA qualifying school later this month in Indianapolis.

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