BETHESDA -- The father will be playing in his 41st consecutive U.S. Open and the 150th major championship of his legendary career. The son will be playing in his first Open and first major.
So it's only natural that the father, Jack Nicklaus, expects to be more nervous for the third of his four sons in today's opening round of the 97th Open at Congressional Country Club than he will be for himself?
"Isn't a father always nervous for his son?" said the elder Nicklaus, a four-time Open champion.
It will mark the fifth time in Open history that a father and son have played in the same tournament. But it marks the first time in the Nicklaus family after numerous attempts by Gary Nicklaus and his three brothers to qualify.
"It's a great thrill, because it's my first U.S. Open," said Gary Nicklaus, 28, who qualified for the Open in Orlando, Fla.. "Second, there's a chance for me to play in a tournament that he has been so much a part of for so many years before he decides not to play in any more of these."
Said Jack Nicklaus, who was given a USGA exemption for the fifth time, "Obviously we've always followed the kids and followed with every sport they've played. But when you get one to play in the U.S. Open that you're playing in, that's a little extra special and knowing that this is probably going to be my last regular U.S. Open that I'll probably play in sequence, it's very special."
That they will be playing about four hours apart will likely mean that neither the father nor the son will see the other play. Jackie Nicklaus, who caddied for his father when he won the 1986 Masters, will caddie today for Jack. The youngest of the four Nicklaus sons, Michael -- there is also a daughter -- won't be here. He is graduating from Georgia Tech on Saturday.
Will the elder Nicklaus watch his son play after he is finished?
"I'll have enough trouble walking this course once, I doubt very seriously that I'll walk it twice," said Jack Nicklaus, 57. "I'll be finishing just about the same time he'll be starting. I might go out and see some of it, but if I'm playing decently, I'm not going to wear myself out."
As for his wife, Barbara, "She's the only one who'll go 36 tomorrow."
The younger Nicklaus has played 21 career events on the PGA Tour, making two cuts. He has also played overseas in Europe, South Africa and most recently in Asia. Both he and his father would like to still be here this weekend, perhaps playing together.
"I think it would be kind of neat," said Jack Nicklaus. "I would love to have the opportunity to play with him on [Father's Day]. Of course, I would love to be late. I don't mean late to the tee. I mean a late tee time. Somebody asked us the other day what if you have a 4-footer at the last hole if Gary could win the tournament?
"I said, 'Oh, I'd miss it on purpose.' He said, 'Fat chance, you never missed one yet to beat me.' "
Early Tiger gets chased
Tiger Woods learned at least one U.S. Open rule yesterday: Don't show up to play until the course opens at 7 a.m. Woods had tried to squeeze in the back nine before the crowds began to build, arriving at the course around 6: 15 a.m.
But after playing three holes, Woods and a handful of other players were told they had to start again after 7. A marshal told Associated Press that Woods "was a little uptight" about being asked to leave. A USGA official said that at least two others, Davis Love III and Mike Hulbert, were told to do the same thing.
"They were still doing maintenance on the course," said Mike Butz, the deputy executive director of the USGA. "From what I know, he went back out to 13 after he was allowed to go on the course."
Woods hit a couple of approach shots on the long, downhill par-4 17th into the water behind the green. He tried to retrieve one of his errant shots -- hey, doesn't that prove the guy is either human or extremely frugal -- and had to wait for a snake to leave before retrieving it.
That meant he broke another rule at Congressional.
No fishing allowed.
In position to win
Love, who is without a victory in the major championships, was in position to win each of the past two U.S. Opens, and faltered down the stretch. Now, he feels as though a changed mind-set could get him over the hump.
"I feel like I'm playing as good [as last year] or close to as good, but with a different feeling," he said before his final practice round. "I've been playing some really good golf in stretches. It's just a matter of being focused."
In 1995, after a tie for second in the Masters -- his first top-10 finish in a 12-year pro career -- he came right back to tie for fourth in the Open at Shinnecock Hills.
Last year, at Oakland Hills, three back-nine birdies got him a tie for the lead, before he missed the green at the par-3 17th, and three-putted the 18th to finish one stroke behind winner Steve Jones.
"A bad shot and a bad three-putt [from 20 feet, including a three-footer that slid by the cup for par] left a void in my confidence."
Now it's another year and another tough U.S. Open course.
"I think it's as fair as any Open I've played. It's in perfect condition. They have left no stone unturned. We were on the 10th hole at 7: 15, and I'm not exaggerating, there were 40 people working on the hole and they were mowing the fairways with single-reel mowers."
TV Today: 11 a.m.-2 p.m., ESPN; 3-5 p.m. Chs. 11, 4; 5-7: 30 p.m., ESPN
Tomorrow: 11 a.m.-2 p.m., ESPN; 3-5 p.m. Chs. 11, 4; 5-7: 30 p.m., ESPN
Saturday: 12: 30-6: 30 p.m., chs. 11, 4
Sunday: 12: 30 -6: 30 p.m., chs. 11, 4
Pub Date: 6/12/97