SOUTH BEND, Ind. – A cold putter couldn’t keep Gary Nicklaus from advancing to the weekend in the U.S. Senior Open and extending a family gathering here in this famous university town.
Playing in just his fourth event this year since rejoining the professional ranks, Nicklaus birdied his final hole Friday for a one-over 71 at the Warren Golf Course at Notre Dame to comfortably make the cut at one-under 139. He was tied for 31st place when he holed out from two feet at the ninth, his final hole of the day. The top 60 and ties advance to the weekend.
“That was a much-needed birdie on the last hole, just mentally,” said Nicklaus, 50, who is playing in his fifth different USGA event. “But, hey, it's the first professional major I've played in a long time. To be here and play the first two rounds and be playing on the weekend, that's the first step, right?
“I wish I would have played a little bit better than I did today. I actually hit the ball better today than I did yesterday. But just left a few shots out there. My last six holes weren't the best, but to finish with the birdie was nice.”
With his son, Gary Jr., on the bag and his famous father Jack – who twice won the U.S. Senior Open among eight USGA titles – among the family in his gallery, Nicklaus got to three under and tied for 15th when he offset an early bogey with birdies at the 15th and 17th holes. He hit a patch of trouble after turning onto the more difficult front nine. He bogeyed Nos. 4 and 5, the two toughest holes on the course, and then added another at the seventh after splitting the fairway.
“That was one where I never should have made bogey,” he said. “No excuse there.”
Nicklaus currently ranks 16th in the field in greens in regulation after hitting 12 of 18 on Friday despite missing just two fairways. He hit 15 greens on Thursday, including his last 12. He has needed 63 putts thus far, however.
"He played nicely, I thought. He just never did get the putter going,” said the elder Nicklaus. "But making the cut is good. I know he'd like to be a few shots better, and he hit it well enough [to do that]. But no one can win the tournament if they miss the cut."
“I’ve just got to make more putts and make birdies,” Gary said. “I'm hitting the ball decent. I hit enough fairways today. I hit enough greens. I hit it close enough to the hole. I just didn't really make anything. And then when I had a chance to make a bogey, I did.”
He has two more rounds to find his scoring gear. In the meantime, he’s enjoying the outing with his son (who goes by GT) and with a collection of friends and family in attendance. "We've got all kinds of people out here. My mom, my dad, my son, my daughter, my girlfriend, friends, my business partner and his family. So, we got a good group here. We're having a good time.”
Especially meaningful is having his son on the bag. GT earned his own 15 minutes of fame (and maybe more) when he caddied for his grandfather in the Masters Par 3 Contest last year. When his grandfather asked if he’d like to hit a shot on the ninth hole, GT grabbed a wedge and made an ace, all in front of a national television audience.
GT caddied for his dad when he qualified for the 40th U.S. Senior Open at the sectional in Jupiter, Fla. Gary birdied the final two holes and then won the second of two spots in a three-man playoff.
Gary said earlier in the week he just wanted to have a great experience with his son. Apparently, that was more likely with GT carrying the clubs.
“I've caddied for him a lot, and there's usually like a lot of yelling and screaming back and forth when I caddie for him, as most dads with their sons,” Nicklaus said. “But he caddied in the qualifier and then this. There hasn't been any yelling. It's been good.
Then Gary looked over at his son and said, “GT, no yelling yet, huh?”
GT just smiled. He has two more days on the job.