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Family matter for Nicklaus' at BMW event

The historic significance of five family members participating in this week's BMW Charity Pro-Am at The Cliffs isn't lost on Gary Nicklaus, but he isn't about to dwell on it at the expense of losing sight of his agenda and aspirations.

Nicklaus' legendary father, Jack, as well as brothers Jack II and Michael join Nicklaus, a former member of the PGA Tour, in the 156-player field in Traveler's Rest, S.C. His other brother, Steve, is playing in the Nationwide Tour event as an amateur paired with his dad.

The quintet represents the largest contingent from one family to play in a PGA Tour-affiliated Tournament.

For Gary, it's an opportunity to have more company at the post-round dinner table. Otherwise, it's business as usual.

"Everybody has been talking to me about how different this Tournament is going to be," said Nicklaus, 34, a PGA Tour member from 2000-02. "Well, for me it's no different. This is my job, and I'm going there to try and win the Tournament. It doesn't matter that my dad is playing or watching me or that my brothers are around. It doesn't change my approach.

"It's great that the family is going to be there. That's always nice," Nicklaus added. "It just doesn't have an effect on how I'm approaching the Tournament."

The BMW Charity Pro-Am, played at Cliffs Valley and Cliffs at Keowee Vineyards, follows a format similar, though not identical, to the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. Jack Nicklaus, winner of a record 18 professional major titles, has played with Steve, who carries a four handicap, 14 times at Pebble Beach.

Jack, 63, Steve, 39, and Michael, 30, all are playing in their first Nationwide Tour event. Jack II, 41, last played at that level at the 1993 Dakota Dunes Open.

Bringing the Nicklaus men together in suburban Greenville was not a stretch; Jack and Gary are co-designing a Nicklaus Signature Course, the Cliffs at Walnut Cove, the fourth Cliffs residential community. One of the Tournament sponsors is Greenville-based IMI Resort Holdings, a real estate sales and marketing concern that has collaborated with Nicklaus Design on several projects.

The Golden Bear and his cubs aren't the only draw. Celebrities in the field include Kevin Costner, Cheech Marin, Michael O'Keefe (of CaddyShack fame), Alice Cooper, Tommy Lasorda, Jim Courier and Gabrielle Reece.

Nevertheless, Tournament Director Doug McGrath said Monday that ticket sales were 25 percent ahead of last year, thanks to the infusion of Nicklauses, and that the event could reach a sellout, which would be 30,000 daily spectators.

The Golf Channel is providing live four-round coverage from 1:30-4 p.m. ET, and replays from 8-10:30 p.m.

Playing golf with his sons always has been a priority for Jack Nicklaus. Besides pairing with Steve at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, the Bear has competed in the Office Depot Father-Son Challenge with Gary and Jack II, and with Michael in Johnny Miller's Champion's Challenge in Utah.

He has not competed since missing the cut in The Masters, and though he was disappointed with his scoring at soggy at Augusta National Golf Club, he said he was looking forward to his first foray on the Nationwide Tour.

"It will be fun. It's a nice opportunity for all of us and we're grateful to have that time together, though, obviously, we won't all be together on the golf course in this situation," Nicklaus said. "But that's why I'm going, to compete and enjoy some time with the kids. I've always tried to play at least one Tournament with all my boys."

The possibility exists that at least one of the boys playing as a professional, most likely Gary, will be in the same foursome with his father.

Gary Nicklaus was to have traveled with brothers Steve and Michael Sunday to South Carolina, but a few days ago tweaked a back injury that first flared up in January. He is to arrive at The Cliffs Tuesday with his father and brother Jack II, and he expects to be ready in time for Thursday's opening round.

Playing on sponsor's exemptions, Gary Nicklaus has made the cut in one of five events on the PGA Tour, finishing tied for 31st at the Chrysler Classic of Tucson. A former Nationwide Tour member, he has retooled his swing under the tutelage of David Leadbetter in hopes of regaining his Tour status. His next start after this week comes at the end of May at the Memorial Tournament, where he is receiving an exemption.

"David has helped me tremendously with my ball-striking," Gary Nicklaus said. "It has always been my strength, but in the last few years it had gotten to be a weakness. Now it's back to where it should be."

The improvement has allowed him to concentrate on his putting, which he calls, "the weak link in my game." Drills and diligent practice with the blade have been part of his daily regimen for reasons that have become too obvious to ignore.

"I've been studying the stats, and at Bay Hill I saw that Brad Faxon hit 32 percent of his fairways and 42 percent of his greens in the third round and shot 65," Nicklaus said. "Why? Because he putts well. I've been working hard on my swing for years and now it's time for me to get better in other areas. I know that's going to give me the best opportunity to reach my goals."

 

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