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Nicklaus offers advice to young golfers

Along with his record 18 professional majors and a PGA Tour career that spanned four decades, perhaps one of the most remarkable tributes to the consistent greatness of Jack Nicklaus was that he only withdrew from two tournaments.

One of them was the Philadelphia Golf Classic in 1970. The other was the 1983 Masters.

Nicklaus doesn't consider himself lucky, just well-rounded - not his shape, but his interest in other sports.

Even when he was at Ohio State, Nicklaus said he would put the clubs away after the golf season and play intramural football, basketball and volleyball. As a teenager, he played sports in every season.

"I think I was developed to play other things and do other things, and golf didn't beat me down to one thing. I just didn't wear out," Nicklaus said during his recent visit to the World Golf Hall of Fame.

Hardly anyone lifted weights if they were serious about golf when Nicklaus was growing up, but so much about this sport has changed. Nick Faldo and Greg Norman were fanatical about fitness, then Tiger Woods and a host of others have taken that to a new level.

"It's a different day," he said.

What concerns Nicklaus are kids who are steered toward golf and spend their time doing little else.

"You see kids specialize in golf. I think that is idiotic," he said. "To play all the sports is great. I played everything. My dad played everything. Golf to me was just another sport until I was about 19. When I won the National Amateur at 19, I finally said, 'Hmm, I must be a little better than I think I am.' It was just a game - still is a game."

His advice to young golfers?

"I think kids should be playing everything, doing everything," he said. "Eventually, if you want to specialize in something, that's fine. But go out and enjoy, and be happy to be able to play other things."

EVE N. PAR: The LPGA Tour rolled out a playful statistic this year, keeping track of how much a player would have earned by finishing at even par (Eve N. Par) in all official events.

Eve N. Par would have finished with $605,121 to finish at No. 24 on the LPGA money list.

Apply that to the PGA Tour, and the statistics get skewed, for Eve N. Par would have won the Masters and the U.S. Open. Total earnings would have been $4,650,492 to finish at No. 5 on the PGA Tour money list, playing in 43 tournaments.

Throw out the majors and replace them with opposite-field events (when applicable), and the total would have been $1,780,875 to finish 48th on the money list.

ULTIMATE GAME: The Ultimate Game offers a $1 million first prize to two-player teams that pay their own entry fee of up to $60,000. The competition is off limits to fully exempt members of the PGA, European, Asian, Japan, Nationwide and Champions tours.

But it doesn't say anything about the LPGA Tour.

U.S. Women's Open champion Cristie Kerr plans to sign up for the March 6-11 event with her swing coach, Jim McLean.

"It's not often that I get to play in such a unique format with my longtime mentor and a person who has so greatly influenced my golf game," Kerr said of McLean. "Couple that with the fact that it's a chance to play for $1 million, and I can't wait."

Kerr will play from the same tees as the men in the better-ball format. Entry fees range from $45,000 to $60,000 per team, and players get that back if they win two matches. It will be held at the PGA West Stadium Course.

CHOPRA'S CHOICE: Daniel Chopra made plenty of right decisions when he won the Ginn sur Mer Classic last month, his first PGA Tour victory that gives him a two-year exemption.

With Q-school starting Wednesday, it was a reminder of another good decision he made six years ago.

Chopra reached the final round of Q-school on the European Tour, and the second stage of Q-school on the PGA Tour. The problem was they were scheduled the same week in November 2001.

"So I had to make a choice," Chopra said. "Do I go to European Tour school, final stage, have a chance to get on to the big tour? Or do I say, 'No, I want to go and play the PGA Tour?"'

The decision was surprisingly easy.

Chopra backed out of the European Q-school finals, stunning many around him. It was a huge risk; had he not advanced and earned a card through the PGA Tour's Q-school, he would have essentially had nowhere to play in 2002. But he wound up making the Nationwide Tour that year, got to the big tour in 2004 and finally showed he could win.

"Took a long time," Chopra said.

JACK IS BACK: Jack Nicklaus is heading into the meat of his tournament schedule.

First up is the Del Webb Father-Son Challenge this weekend in Orlando, where he and Gary will try to win for the second time. Then after a three-month break, Nicklaus and Tom Watson will defend their title in the Wendy's Champions Skins Game in Hawaii.

That's about all the competition Nicklaus needs these days.

Nicklaus and Watson will compete in the Champions Skins Game Feb. 23-24 against Arnold Palmer and Jay Haas; Gary Player and Loren Roberts; and Fuzzy Zoeller and Peter Jacobsen. The format at Royal Kaanapali is alternate shot.

Nicklaus has earned $2,295,000 in the Champions Skins Game, about 40 percent of what he earned in his 45 years on the PGA Tour.

DIVOTS: Davis Love III had hoped to return from ankle surgery in time for the Father-Son Challenge and the Target World Challenge, but he is not ready to play. His next start likely will be the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. Love, who received an invitation to Target, was replaced in the 16-man field by Colin Montgomerie. ... The PGA Grand Slam of Golf will return to the Mid-Ocean Club on Bermuda next year. It will be played Oct. 14-15, two weeks after the Tour Championship. ... PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem was asked if he could envision Tiger Woods ever joining the European Tour with the new bonus money and $10 million season-ending event in Dubai. "I've learned after 11 years to let Tiger speak for himself," he said. ... The 18 players in the Father-Son Challenge have combined to win 62 majors.

STAT OF THE WEEK: Sixteen players at the final stage of Q-school are past champions on the PGA Tour.

FINAL WORD: "It's not quite the Masters, but it's $675,000. Thank you." — Stephen Ames, on winning the LG Skins Game.

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