Nicklaus to Focus Attention on Family

In his first public comments about the death of his 17-month-old grandson, Jack Nicklaus says he has
In his first public comments about the death of his 17-month-old grandson, Jack Nicklaus says he has "zero plans for the game of golf for the rest of the year." (Gary Coronado - AP)
By Leonard Shapiro
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 8, 2005

JUPITER, Fla., March 7 -- Six days after the accidental drowning death of his 17-month-old grandson, Jack Nicklaus sat in the clubhouse of one of his favorite golf clubs Monday morning and spoke publicly for the first time about a tragedy he had described in a written statement as "devastating . . . a loss that is impossible to put in words."

Nicklaus came to the Loxahatchee Club here because he had long ago scheduled a news conference to talk about recent changes his golf architectural business had made to the course. In response to a question, the 65-year-old winner of 18 professional major championships said he decided not to cancel the event because he preferred to speak with the media in a group "rather than piecemeal."

"I just felt it was the right thing," said Nicklaus, who lives in nearby North Palm Beach. "I felt I really needed to do that. Life goes on; life is for the living. It hurts, but you make commitments and you've got to keep them."

Ken Bowden, his biographer and a longtime friend, said after the session the entire family was still reeling over the death last Tuesday of Jake Nicklaus, the second child of Jack's son Steve and his wife, Krista. Jack and his wife, Barbara, have five adult children, all of them living nearby.

"I think what Jack did here today was a cathartic thing for him," Bowden said. "It preoccupies him, gives him a chance to get his mind away from it. . . . It's been a very, very tough time for him, for all of them."

Last Tuesday afternoon, Jake Nicklaus apparently was briefly left unattended at Steve and Krista's North Palm Beach home while 25-year-old nanny Caroline Brickweg was changing out of a wet bathing suit. The child apparently slipped past a baby barrier surrounding the pool area and went into a hot tub. Brickweg discovered the boy face down in the water and administered CPR to no avail.

Paramedics responding to her 911 call also were unable to revive the child.

More than 500 people attended a memorial service in North Palm Beach on Saturday, and in his statement, Jack Nicklaus wrote "the last few days have been an overwhelmingly difficult and trying time for my entire family. The loss of our precious 17-month-old grandson Jake was devastating . . . it is just as difficult to find the words to comfort Steve and Krista, who are dedicated, loving and caring parents. The last few days have been ones of grieving and healing for them and our entire family."

Nicklaus sat in a chair in the clubhouse Monday with about 40 reporters and several photographers seated in front of him. He was subdued at the start and when someone asked him about his plans to play competitive golf again, he initially said, "the chances of me playing at Augusta [for the Masters on April 7-10] are slim and none. I'm going to spend my time with Steve and Krista; that's certainly more important than golf. I have absolutely zero plans for the game of golf for the rest of the year.

"I'd love to play at St. Andrews [in the British Open on July 14-17]. But with what's happened with our family, my time will be spent in different ways. [Family is] going to be the most important thing for a length of time. Barbara and I need to support Steve and Krista . . . She's 3 1/2 months pregnant, due around Aug. 1. That little baby she's got inside her is pretty important."

Still, later on in the session, Nicklaus said he planned to go to Augusta and play a practice round during Masters week on Tuesday and perhaps play in the par-3 tournament Wednesday. Afterward, he said there was about a "20 percent chance" that he may he decide to play. He also said that last year, Steve had asked him if he could caddie at St. Andrews in Nicklaus's final British Open appearance and that he hoped the two would still be able to share that special occasion.

"I miss tournament golf," he said. "Would I like to be playing? Absolutely. . . . But if you can't, you can't. My body won't allow me to do that, and my body's actually pretty good right now, the back is fine."

Recovering from the death of his grandson is another story.

"He was truly a gift from God," Nicklaus said in his statement. "Jake's time with all of us was way too brief, yet the life, the smiles and the love he brought to our family will live on in our hearts and memories forever."

In his first public comments about the death of his 17-month-old grandson, Jack Nicklaus says he has "zero plans for the game of golf for the rest of the year."

© 2005 The Washington Post Company