Nicklaus (Gary, not Jack) spices up the field in U.S. Senior Open

The U.S. Golf Association doesn’t bring nearly as many of its championships to the Chicago area as it once did. That’s why this week’s U.S. Senior Open is worth savoring. It’ll begin its four-day run on Thursday at Notre Dame’s Warren course in South Bend.

Jeff Sluman, the only Chicago regular on PGA Tour Champions, is paired with Vijay Singh and Shaun Micheel in an 8:58 tee time in Thursday’s round. In the group ahead will be Scott McCarron, who has dominated PGA Tour Championship this season, and the threesome behind includes David Toms, the defending champion.

There’s another Chicago player in the field. Medinah teaching pro Rich Dukelow got in the field by winning his sectional qualifier and will begin play at 1:10 p.m.

This Senior Open has a special twist, however. Gary Nicklaus, the 50-year old son of the legendary Jack Nicklaus, was also a sectional qualifier. He did it in dramatic fashion at the Bear’s Club, his home course in Jupiter, FL. Gary Nicklaus birdied the final two holes of regulation play to get into a three-man playoff for one spot in the finals with Lance Ten Broeck, the former PGA Tour player and caddie who grew up in Chicago, and Don Bell.

Nicklaus survived on the third extra hole with his son as his caddie and his parents and friends in the gallery. Gary played several unsuccessful seasons on the PGA Tour before regaining his amateur status. Then he opted to go pro again and has been getting into PGA Tour Champions events occasionally.

Playing in the U.S. Senior Open has a more special special meaning, however. His father, who won a record 18 major titles, won the Senior Open in 1991 and 1993 but didn’t play in as many USGA national finals as Gary will once he tees off in South Bend.

“I always enjoyed USGA championships and I’ve had the opportunity to play in the U.S. Junior, U.S. Amateur, the Mid-Amateur and the U.S. Open,’’ said Nicklaus. “Getting in the Senior Open in the first year of being eligible has me super excited. I’ve been thinking about this tournament all year.’’

Jack Nicklaus played in only four of the USGA championships. The Mid-Amateur never fit the schedule.

“I know I’m not breaking any records, but it’s nice thought to do something my Dad didn’t do,’’ said Gary.

Like Jack, Gary played collegiately at Ohio State and was in a position to win on the PGA Tour when he lost the Atlanta Classic title in a playoff. He dropped off the circuit to enter his family’s other business ventures shortly thereafter.

“Hopefully I can carry the momentum (from the sectional qualifier) over to the championship at Notre Dame,’’ he said. “I never thought a Buckeye from Ohio State would be this happy about going to Notre Dame.’’

First pro win for Hardy

After a solid collegiate career at Illinois Northbrook’s Nick Hardy has no status on either the newly-named Korn Ferry (formerly Tour or PGA Tour. While he’s had to go through Monday qualifiers or seek sponsor exemptions to play on those circuits he did post a rousing win on the APT (All Pro Tour) in the $110,000 Supreme Lending Classic in Broken Arrow, Okla.

Hardy put together rounds of 66, 62, 68 and 69 for a 23-under-par 265. It was good enough for a three-stroke victory and $20,000 payday.

Here and there

The 100th playing of the Chicago District Amateur concludes on Thursday at Glen View Club. Meanwhile, the CDGA Foundation has kicked off its 75-year anniversary festivities with an exhibition by newly-honored World Golf Hall of Famer Dennis Walters at Midwest Golf House in Lemont.

The Western Golf Association held its Junior tournaments concurrently last week with Piercen Hunt, a University of Illinois recruit from Hartland, Wis., winning the boys version by seven shots at Rich Harvest Farms in Sugar Grove and Gabriella Gilrowski of Westfield, Ind., taking the girls tournament in Carmel, Ind.

Schaumburg Golf Club’s three-stage renovation of its 27-hole facility has hit a snag. The second stage was to be completed on Saturday with the re-opening of the Baer nine. Only holes 10-16 will be ready for play, however. The time goal for opening the other two holes is Aug. 1. Meanwhile, work will begin on the first seven holes of the Tournament nine on July 1.

Former hockey stars Jeremy Roenick and Patrick Sharp will headline the Helping Hands Network’s celebrity tourney at Twin Orchard in Long Grove on July 18. Proceeds will go to Keshet of Northbrook, which offers programs for individuals with special needs.