AURORA, Colo. (AP) — 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.
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.
Midway through the first day of qualifying, Bobby Wyatt, 20, of Mobile, Ala., was in the lead after shooting a 7-under 64 at the Cherry Hills course. He’ll conclude qualifying play Tuesday on the CommonGround course.
Twenty-two years ago, Gary Nicklaus 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 Gary Nicklaus 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.
He turned pro a year later but never managed to duplicate the success he had as an amateur, losing his PGA Tour card nine years ago. 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, though, and in 2007 he was reinstated as an amateur. He qualified for this year’s amateur during sectional play in Wellington, Fla.
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 five 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.; 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.