If Gary “GT” Nicklaus Jr. made his 78-year-old grandfather cry on Wednesday with a hole-in-one in the Par 3 Contest, you should see what Jack’s 15-year-old grandson – one of 22 grandchildren in the family – can do with a piano and the lyrics to Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer.”
I’m told from mutual friends in Palm Beach County, Fla., GT is as good on the keys, playing a guitar and singing a song, as he playing off a plus-2 handicap on the Oxbridge Academy golf team in West Palm Beach.
You could say the golf part is the Nicklaus genes, but it’s not like the musical skill set of playing by ear runs in the Nicklaus family.
“I took piano until I kept getting my fingers rapped by a teacher and I said, no, I don’t think this is for me,” Jack said after hitting the ceremonial opening tee shot on Thursday at Augusta National. “And I wish I could have kept getting my fingers rapped because I wish I could play the piano today. I can hunt and peck and all that kind of stuff.”
GT is the son of Gary Nicklaus, who at one time had a PGA Tour card and was the only Nicklaus child who followed in his father’s golfing footprints. Of course those were big shoes to fill – especially after Sports Illustrated put Gary on the cover in 1985 under the headline “The Next Nicklaus.” Now 49, Gary has been involved in the Nicklaus family business as a strategist and investor.
“I played sax in fourth grade, I was fantastic,” Gary said upon returning home to Palm Beach. “I could play ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb.’ I’m sure my dad came to the concert with earplugs in. I’m so not musically inclined.”
Among the best in GT’s repertoire is “One Number Away” by Country Artist Luke Combs. At the 2017 PNC Father/Son Challenge and at a recent funeral for one of his father’s contemporaries in the Palm Beach County Golf Association, GT performed Chris Stapleton’s “Broken Halos.”
“We started both he and our daughter (Nina, now 13) when they were 4 on piano,” Gary said. “Our daughter is fantastic playing piano, but when I try to get her to sing, she says, ‘No, dad.’ She’s sitting in the back seat right now.”
This is the first time GT experienced the fame of being a Nicklaus. Before making the hole-in-one wearing the traditional Masters caddie uniform, he had 800 followers on Instagram. He quickly went viral, picking up 1,000 followers one hour after the shot, 2,000 more by 10 p.m. and was up to nearly 4,000 on Wednesday morning.
Gary was right behind the green to witness this. He has had one hole-in-one in his life, and that came within the last two years. But watching GT make his ace, with that huge audience, on the same tee box with his immortal grandfather and the iconic Gary Player, Gary Nicklaus something that we were all thinking:
“It was very surreal.”