Golf: Picnic at last for Golden Bearcub

Click to follow
By Andy Farrell

in County Kildare

THE NAME was familiar, the experience a new one for Gary Nicklaus. "It was nice to see my name on the leaderboard for a change," said the Golden Bearcub. For once he was not being asked to talk his father. "Finally, I'm in here for what I've done," he smiled.

Perhaps for the first time in his 29 years, Gary Nicklaus is playing better golf than Jack Nicklaus, who missed the Open, has virtually packed up for the season and is currently on holiday with the family in Africa. Meanwhile Gary, the third of four sons, yesterday scored a 66 in the second round of the Smurfit European Open. At four under par, he was two behind the leaders Bernhard Langer and Jose Rivero, and one adrift of the Swede, Mathias Gronberg.

Having got through the Qualifying School for the first time in five attempts last November, this is Nicklaus' rookie season on the European tour. It has not gone well. In 12 events, he has missed the cut nine times. He just failed to qualify for the Open when he lost a play-off for one of the last places.

"I am looking forward to playing on the weekend for a change," Nicklaus said, "and when I'm up there and have a chance. If I keep my head and am patient, who knows what might happen?"

Bearing the Nicklaus name has not been easy for a man in his seventh year of a professional career spent mainly on the backwaters of the game's mini-tours, including one in Florida named the Golden Bear Tour. On the other hand, he admits he has received sponsors' invitations for event because of who his father is and that is the case this week.

"The biggest negative is that you live in a fish tank," he said. "Everywhere you go, everybody knows you, knows what you are doing. You are under the microscope the whole time. If you screw up it's going to be in the papers. If someone else screws up, no one will ever hear about it.

"But there are a lot of positives. I probably wouldn't be here this week if I wasn't a Nicklaus. You've got to take the good with the bad and I don't have any regrets either way. I am proud of who I am, proud of my dad and proud of our family."

A week's holiday in the Greek islands followed by a few days working on the range by himself - instead of getting all and sundry to look at his swing - have done wonders for the most talented of Jack's sons and the original Bear Apparent. His reward was five birdies in a row around the turn.

"When I am playing well, as I did today, I am straight off the tee, hit my irons close and though I don't always make a lot of putts, I did today," he said. "I wouldn't be human if I didn't feel like giving up the way I've played but if you can learn from your results, you should be able to improve."

Langer, who missed the USPGA last week due to a recurrence of his neck spasms, was oblivious to the fact that the fairways have been narrowed and the rough thickened since the German won at the K Club three years ago as he scored a 65, one outside Colin Montgomerie's course record. "It's definitely a man's course," Langer said.

Too tough, indeed for Montgomerie's suddenly fragile game as he missed the cut on eight over after a 79. Six over for the three holes after the turn, Monty had not failed to qualify in a regular European tour event for over two years. "Things weren't going well at the USPGA and continued here," he said.

"I will practice over the weekend and try to find a cure but things are very fragile right now," added the Scot who returned to his old teacher, Bill Ferguson, on Wednesday for the first time since 1996. "Things have been going wrong for two years but I'll learn from this and go forward."

Darren Clarke, his playing partner, scored a 74 but remained one of only eight players under par. Clarke, who grew up in Dungannon some 30 miles from Omagh, is organising a pro-am at Portmarnock Links on September 14, which will include the Ryder Cup team and all the Irish players, to raise funds for the Omagh Fund.

"We are hoping to raise pounds 150,000," Clarke said. "I know it can't bring people back but I am in the fortunate position of being a sportsman who can get something like this organised to help ease some of the suffering and pain."

Due to the fact that the Ryder Cup captain is due to be announced in Munich on Wednesday, there has been speculation that Langer has reversed his original decision not to stand for the post. But he maintained: "I feel I can still make the team as a player and if I do, I feel I should play because we will need the 12 best players to play."

n America's Kelly Robbins won a battle against the elements and shot a course record five under par 67 in yesterday's second round of the Compaq Open at Barseback Golf Club near Malmo.

While many of the European players are nervous over the Solheim Cup selection on Sunday, the 28-year-old - No 1 in the US Solheim rankings - took the chance to sneak into the lead on 142.