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Grieving Nicklaus likely to skip the Masters
by Associated Press

JUPITER, Florida (AP) - Jack Nicklaus had planned to squeeze in a few trips to Augusta National this month, making sure his 65-year-old body was fit and his game was good enough to compete in the Masters.

Now, the Masters is the last thing on his mind. "I think with what's happened to us in our family, my time is going to be spent in much different ways," Nicklaus said on Monday in his first public comments since his 17-month-old grandson drowned in a hot tub. "That's the most important thing right now. And I think it will be the most important thing for a long time."

Nicklaus said his chances of playing the Masters are "between slim and none," although he plans to be at Augusta National for the Champions Dinner, maybe even the Par 3 Tournament.

He still would like to play the British Open at St. Andrews in July since this is his last year of eligibility and because his son, Steve, wants to caddie for him.

It was Steve Nicklaus' son, Jake, who drowned last Tuesday.

Nicklaus sat before a small gathering on Monday at The Loxahatchee Club, not as the steely eyed winner of 18 major championships, but as a teary-eyed grandfather who had lost one of his 17 grandchildren.

He declined to cancel the appearance, saying it was the right thing to do.

"Life has got to move on. Life is for the living," Nicklaus said. "It hurts, but you go on. You make commitments, and you've got to do them."

But he remains so shaken that he left a statement on each chair that expressed his grief and appreciation about the love and support, hopeful it would limit the questions during a one-hour interview.

His voice cracked only once, when he mentioned that Steve's wife, Krista, is 3 1/2 months pregnant and probably will have the baby shortly after the British Open.

"Obviously, that little baby she has inside her is very important," Nicklaus said.

Nicklaus is perhaps the greatest champion golf has known, winning a record 18 majors over 25 seasons. But he has always taken more pride in his family.

There are the famous stories of how he fainted when his wife, Barbara, gave birth to each of their five children. There was that memorable photo of him scooping up 4-year-old Gary after a round at the 1973 PGA Championship. Gary Nicklaus later played two years on the U.S. PGA Tour.

And when Nicklaus had his left hip replaced in 1999 - causing him to miss the Masters for the first time - he said it was to improve his quality of life so he could remain active with his grandchildren, not to help him play another major.

"As you can imagine, the last few days have been an overwhelmingly difficult and trying time for my entire family," Nicklaus said in his statement. "The loss of our precious, 17-month-old grandson Jake was devastating, and it is a loss that is impossible to put into words."

Nicklaus had an easier time talking about his future in golf.

"I have absolutely zero plans as it relates to the game of golf," he said. He plans to play on Tuesday in a charity event hosted by Gary Player, because Nicklaus is upholding his commitments. He also has an outing on Monday at Lost Tree near his home in North Palm Beach.

And he won't entirely rule out playing in the Masters, although he called his chances less than 20 percent.

"If I feel like I can get Steve out and spend some time with him on the golf course, get myself in shape ... I'm not going to close the door on it until it's time to get there," Nicklaus said. "But I can't imagine my mind is going to be on preparing to play golf.

"I'll go to Augusta this year," he said. "I'll probably go out and play a round on Tuesday, and I may play the Par 3 on Wednesday. And if I can play, if I think I should play the golf tournament, I'll probably play the golf tournament. If I don't think I should, I'll play Tuesday and Wednesday, and that will be it."

If he doesn't play, it would be only the third time since he first played in 1959. After the hip replacement surgery in 1999, he missed 2002 because of lingering back problems.

Nicklaus has not played the British Open since 2000 at St. Andrews. Past champions are eligible through age 65, and the Royal & Ancient Golf Club moved up St. Andrews in the rotation to give the Golden Bear one last chance to play on his favorite links.

Having his son on the bag will help.

"I would think I'll play the British Open no matter what," he said. "Steve is caddying for me, so I'll share that with him either way."

But that's still four months away, and Nicklaus is trying to get through each day right now. There was a visitation on Friday, the funeral service on Saturday. There are commitments he doesn't want to break because, as Nicklaus said, life goes on. But his focus is far from the fairways.

"I'm going to spend my time with Steve and Krista," he said. "I think that's probably more important than golf."

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