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Published: Wednesday, 4/6/2005

Nicklaus says playing this week is therapy for heartbroken family

BY DAVE HACKENBERG
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Nicklaus says playing this week
is therapy for heartbroken family Jack Nicklaus has decided to tee it up for his 45th Masters despite the recent tragic death of his grandson Jake. Nicklaus says playing this week is therapy for heartbroken family Jack Nicklaus has decided to tee it up for his 45th Masters despite the recent tragic death of his grandson Jake.
MORRY GASH / AP Enlarge

AUGUSTA, Ga. - Jack Nicklaus is making a therapeutic visit to Augusta National Golf Club, and if he finds a little game along the way, well, so much the better.

Nicklaus and his family are still reeling from the death of the golfer's youngest grandchild, 17-month-old Jake, the son of Steve and Krista Nicklaus, who drowned in a hot tub on March 1.

Nicklaus may be a legend and may, in fact, be the greatest to ever play this game, but yesterday he was understandably little more than a broken-hearted grandfather.

"You're never going to get over something like that, and you shouldn't," Nicklaus said in advance of his 45th Masters start. "You grieve and you move on and say life will get better, but it's difficult. The hardest part for me is watching my children suffer. It's a double-whammy for a grandparent. That's just not supposed to happen."

When it did, Nicklaus put everything on hold to spend time with Steve.

"And Steve wanted to play golf," Nicklaus said. "So we started playing golf. I had no intention of playing, but that's what he wanted to do. He loves it here and at one point he said, 'Can we go to Augusta?' So we came here two weeks ago."

Eventually, Steve convinced his father to play in the Masters.

"So I'm here; that's why I'm playing," Jack said. "I can't say I'm going to have much of a golf game, but it's going to be what it is, what I've got. I've come up [to Augusta from his home in Florida] the last two weeks and I spend half my time with fairway woods or metals, whatever you want to call them, in my hand. When guys are playing 8-irons and 9-irons and wedges, I'm sitting back there with a 4-wood or 3-wood to the green. I don't care how much coming here elevates your game if that's the game you have."

Tiger Woods said Nicklaus' participation "should be a very touching moment for the entire family. I'm sure that's why he's here, for his family. Steve is obviously going through a tough time. This will get their minds off it a little."

Nicklaus, a six-time Masters champion, used the word "probably" when asked if this would be his last appearance in the tournament.

"I don't think I need to make a big deal out of whether I'm going to play or not going to play," he said. "My time has passed. I've had my time at Augusta. I don't need a lot of fanfare for that. When I decide to quit I can't think that's any big deal, at least not to me. I don't know why it should be for anybody else."

HARD AND FAST: Retief Goosen arrived at Augusta National to find U.S. Open-type conditions, and he could not be happier.

"The course is drying out very quickly," said the reigning and two-time Open champion. "The greens are getting to like the U.S. Open, speed-wise, which is good. They're really fast for this early in the week. Hopefully, we'll have a semi-dry week for a change. My experience in the Open, yeah, obviously that can help me a lot this week."

He might not get his wish. The forecast for tomorrow's first round is a wet one.

LEFT BEHIND: No left-hander had won the Masters before Mike Weir accomplished the feat in 2003. Then Phil Mickelson made it two straight last April at Augusta.

Weir enjoyed the former much more than the latter. He missed the cut a year ago, but had to stick around for two days to satisfy the Masters post-tournament tradition of the previous winner presenting the new champion with a green jacket.

"It wasn't very much fun," Weir said. "I just hung out with my family, watched the tournament on TV, and then got ready for the ceremony. But it was exciting watching it. It was tremendous golf."

THE MENU: The main course at last night's annual Champions Dinner, with Mickelson in charge of the menu? Lobster ravioli.



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