Nicklaus turns to Augusta for solace

Six-time victor didn't think he would play after death of 18-month-old grandson

Masters notebook


April 06, 2005|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

AUGUSTA, Ga. - For many years, Jack Nicklaus came here for the Masters with one purpose: to win. Between 1959, when he missed the cut as a 19-year-old amateur, and 1986, when he became the oldest champion ever at age 46, Nicklaus won a record six times.

This year, Nicklaus is playing here with one purpose: finding solace among family and friends after the death of his 18-month old grandson, Jake, who drowned in a hot tub after being left unattended by a nanny at the family's home in Florida.

It was at the suggestion of Steve Nicklaus, mourning the death of his son, that his legendary father tee it up again at Augusta National for his 45th -- and the 69th overall -- Masters.

"He loves it up here, and he said, `Can we go to Augusta?' " Nicklaus, 65, recalled yesterday.

After Nicklaus and his son played here two weeks ago, the two discussed the possibility of the elder Nicklaus playing in the tournament. Nicklaus doesn't know whether this will be his final playing appearance here.

"I feel like next year is going to be tougher than this year to try to get a golf game ready," said Nicklaus, whose schedule on the Champions Tour has been limited to a Senior Skins Game since undergoing back surgery in November. "I can't say it's going to be much of a golf game, but it's going to be what I've got."

Nicklaus seemed surprised by the outpouring of condolence cards, letters and e-mails after his grandson's death.

"People I haven't heard from in 40, 50 years, things like that," said Nicklaus. "It's been very, very nice."

Goosen getting ready

The normally fast greens at Augusta have been a touch quicker the first two days of practice. While it's unlikely they will approach those at Shinnecock Hills for last year's U.S. Open, the faster the better for South Africa's Retief Goosen.

Ranked No. 5 in the world, the two-time U.S. Open champion has seriously contended here once in six trips, finishing second in 2002.

"It would be nice," Goosen said about fast greens. "I think I've only played Augusta hard and fast once. In the last three years, it's been pretty muddy. It would be nice to see if play different for a change."

Heavy rain is expected to come through the area just in time for tomorrow's opening round.

Carolina blue

Tiger Woods was wearing a blue shirt yesterday - the shade of which is very popular in Chapel Hill, N.C. Woods, who attended Stanford for two years, said his choice of wardrobe wasn't necessarily to celebrate North Carolina's victory Monday in the NCAA final, but to poke fun at a close friend.

Asked why he was wearing the blue shirt, Woods said, "One word. Steinie."

Woods was referring to his longtime agent, Mark Steinberg, who in his previous life was a walk-on basketball player at the University of Illinois.

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