Gary Nicklaus finally gets chance at Cherry Hill

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After missing the 1990 U.S. Amateur at Cherry Hills because of a heart ailment, Gary Nicklaus, the son of the legendary golfer, was back Monday in Colorado as a 43-year-old competing with 311 other golfers in this year's edition of the amateur.

A small gallery that included his father and mother, Jack and Barbara Nicklaus, watched the younger Nicklaus tee off at the 7,378-yard, par-70 CommonGround Golf Course, which along with Cherry Hills is being used over two days of stroke-play qualifying.

"That obviously was a big disappointment," Gary Nicklaus said, recalling the illness that forced his withdrawal. "But to come back some 20 years later and have another crack at it, I'm happy to be here."

The younger Nicklaus shot a 1-over 71, leaving him in a tie for 64th place heading into Tuesday's final round of qualifying. The top 64 finishers will advance to match play, which begins Wednesday and will be played on the 7,409-yard, par-71 course at Cherry Hills Country Club. Any ties will be resolved by a playoff prior to the commencement of match play, which concludes Sunday.

"I got off to miserable start — 4 over through the first seven holes," Gary Nicklaus said. "Missed a couple of shots, had a couple of three-putts. Didn't know what was going on. Then I had four birdies in a row and got myself back into it."

All things considered, not bad, according to his dad.

"I think once you're 4 over par, you've got a windy day and you get back to a 71, that's pretty good," Jack Nicklaus said.

Bobby Wyatt, 20, of Mobile, Ala., was in the lead after shooting a 64 at the Cherry Hills course. He'll conclude his qualifying play on the CommonGround course.

When Gary Nicklaus first came to Cherry Creek to play the amateur 22 years ago, he was an up-and-coming golfer who inspired comparisons to his father, a four-time U.S. Open and two-time U.S. amateur champion. But he fell ill on the eve of the '90 tournament and spent a week in the hospital undergoing treatment for pericarditis, or inflammation of the heart.

"I was there the night he had his episode. He was a pretty sad young man," said Jack Nicklaus.

Gary Nicklaus turned pro a year later but never managed to duplicate the success he had as an amateur, losing his PGA Tour card in 2003.

After 96 career tournaments in which his highest finish was second, the younger Nicklaus, who resides in Jupiter, Fla., gave up pro golf in favor of joining the family's golf course design and apparel business.

He kept playing the game, sporadically at times, and in 2007 returned to competition after being reinstated as an amateur. He qualified for this year's amateur during sectional play in Wellington, Fla.

"After a stint as a pro and having some success for a little bit — but not great success — he didn't play much golf for three or four years," Jack Nicklaus said. "Then, all of a sudden he kind of had some fun with it."

And here he is, back in the amateur championship as one of its oldest contestants and still glad to have the encouragement of his father.

"It's great to have his support," Gary Nicklaus said. "He's supported me since I was a little kid and probably will 'til he can't any more. It's great to have him and my mom here."

Wyatt, who plays for the University of Alabama, birdied four of the first five holes en route to his front-running status on the first day of qualifying.

"Hopefully, I can play a good round (Tuesday)," Wyatt said. "I am feeling really good about my game right now. Hopefully, I can carry it along all week."

Wyatt's teammate at Alabama, Justin Thomas of Goshen, Ky., was among six players tied for second at 5 under.

Thomas, the Jack Nicklaus award winner as the top collegiate golfer a year ago, shot a 65 at the CommonGround course. He did not miss a green during a bogey-free round that also included three birdies and an eagle.

"I hit it pretty well," Thomas said. "I just took advantage of my scoring opportunities. I'm obviously going to be pleased anytime I shoot a 65."

He also took note of his college teammate's standout round.

"Didn't surprise me at all," Thomas said of Wyatt. "Bobby is an unbelievable player and he's playing really good. I didn't expect anything less from him."

Also at 5 under were Chris Williams of Moscow, Idaho; Sebastian Vazquez of Mexico; Brandon Hagy of Westlake Village, Calif.; Zac Blair of Ogden, Utah; and Max Homa of Valencia, Calif.

According to the U.S. Golf Association, golfers competing in this year's amateur represent 43 states and 21 countries. Vazquez won the Mexican amateur championship the last two years.