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Jack Nicklaus winding down on playing days

Jack Nicklaus knows he will play this week at the Memorial, the tournament he founded and hosts. Beyond that, he hasn't made any tee times.

``I don't have anything else on my schedule the rest of the year,'' Nicklaus said. ``I'm going to play father-son stuff and Skins games and that kind of stuff, you know, if I'm invited.

``But tournament golf, I don't see myself playing much. I might play an odd tournament here and there, but only if the mood strikes me and I want to go play.''

The Golden Bear is 64. He is not so much tired as he is tired of not playing well. But he has enjoyed his time away from the course. He dotes on his 17 grandkids and spends a lot of time with his wife of 43 years, Barbara.

Nicklaus withdrew from the Senior PGA Championship on Sunday outside Louisville, Ky., after struggling on the course he designed. He shot a third-round 76 at Valhalla and backed out after two bogeys on the front nine of his final round.

Early in his career, Nicklaus built his summers around the major championships. Now he enjoys a varied life. Just as he has cut his competitive schedule, he no longer devotes as much time to his golf-course design business or to golf exhibitions and public appearances.

Asked what motivates him these days, Nicklaus smiled.

``Frankly, I find an awful lot of competition in trying to catch a fish properly,'' he said. ``It's something that I'm getting better at all the time -- particularly with a fly rod. A lot of the courses that I select (to play) usually are close to good trout streams or something. And my wife likes to fish. So the two of us can go trout fishing together. We can go bone fishing together or do whatever we want to do.''

Nicklaus was once pulled to golf's far-flung outposts. Now his life is no longer bound by the demands of his playing schedule.

``My wife has spent a whole bunch of weekends watching me hit a golf ball, so it might be time I spent some time doing the things she likes to do,'' he said.

Joey Sindelar, another former Ohio State golfer, won the Wachovia three weeks ago at 46. He grew up idolizing Nicklaus.

As sorry as Sindelar would be to see Nicklaus stop playing tournaments, he also admires the decision.

``I'm actually happy that he said those things. It's nice that he came to that conclusion,'' Sindelar said. ``He was a slave to the game -- in a great way, you know -- but he did it all and now he says, 'This is a different time in my life for different stuff.' I'm OK with that. I think it's pretty awesome.''

Nicklaus doesn't spend many weekends around his home in North Palm Beach, Fla. If he did, he might end up doing nothing but sitting in a lawn chair behind the chain-link fence at a dusty ballpark every night.

``I've got 17 grandkids,'' he said with a chuckle. ``I'll have to say that maybe it's a little bit too much Little League baseball.''

In April, at a Nationwide Tour event in South Carolina, Nicklaus all but said his competitive golf days were over. Too proud to play ceremonial golf while shooting high scores, Nicklaus said he didn't want to lower his standards just because of his age, creaky back, hip replacements or arthritis.

``If I go out and finish in the top 10, and that's a great week, then I know it's time to hang up your spikes,'' he said then.

That caused a sensation because many people do not want to see Nicklaus leave the game. Arnold Palmer and Gary Player seem content to make appearances and soak up applause, but that doesn't excite Nicklaus. Only winning gets his competitive juices flowing.

``That is all I've ever played for,'' he said. ``That's why I probably don't want to play anymore because winning is really an issue with me that is probably beyond my ability at this point in my life. And that is the only reason I ever play.''

Nicklaus is met with thunderous applause at every green during the Memorial. He designed and built the Muirfield Village Golf Club course and helps organize and administer the tournament. He also has won it twice.

The galleries don't care how he is playing. They just appreciate that he brings the PGA Tour to his hometown.

``I'm always amazed at the number of people who walk up to him and say, 'Jack, thanks for bringing this to Columbus,''' said Dan Sullivan, the tournament's executive director.

Nicklaus said he may keep playing the Memorial even after he has stopped playing other tournaments. He has appeared in all 28 Memorials and again was the first to commit to the field this year.

Nicklaus' last major championship was the 1986 Masters. He has won 73 PGA Tour events and 18 professional majors. Now he gets a kick out of playing events with his four sons -- Jackie, Gary, Steve and Michael - or teaching his grandchildren the finer points of the golf swing.

``He's been the best we've ever seen in modern tour golf -- it's not even close,'' Sindelar said. ``Just as I came on the tour in the early 1980s, he was pretty much phasing out. I never got to see him in his prime, although I got to see him play some great golf. I know it hurts him to play golf. That isn't fun.

``It's an era that's going to be officially closed.''

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