by Kat Ladwig
Fourteen-year-old Nicklaus Kress picked up his first golf club at age 2. The North Branch golfer remembers chipping plastic golf and whiffle balls around his parents house at age 5, and hit his first birdie on the eighth hole at Purple Hawk Country Club in Cambridge later that year.
By the time he turned 6, Kress had won a junior club championship title at Falcon Ridge Golf Course in Minneapolis. The tournament was for 8-to 9-year-olds.
So when Kress made it to the state tournament for North Branch Area High School as a freshman, it was no surprise to his father, Andrew.
“He’s had a golf club in his hand pretty much since he could stand,” he said. “We’ve always had plastic golf balls flying around the house.”
Kress was the third-youngest golfer at the state tournament at Bunker Hills last week aside from eighth-graders from Willmar and Wayzata, and finished 79th in a field of 88 with a score of 173 in dismal weather conditions. While Kress aimed to finish higher, he is still one step closer to his goal of reaching the state tournament all four years of his high school career and wants to keep building on his early success in order to play Division I or II in college.
“I just play my game,” Kress said. “I don’t think about a bad shot — I just let it go. I just want to get better every time I’m out there.”
The now-sophomore said since his first competition at age 6, he has golfed in 10-15 tournaments per summer and spends the off-season strength training in golf-oriented exercises three times per week at Xplode Fitness when he’s not playing basketball for the Vikings. Kress also travels each spring to Florida to get fitted for new clubs at TaylorMade to prepare for the Viking’s varsity season. Next spring will be his fourth year on the varsity squad, which finished third in the North Suburban Conference this spring and graduated just one senior.
But Kress has more than scheduled workouts and new clubs to stay one step ahead of the competition. He was born into the sport with a family lineage of golfers in his blood. Along with his father’s love of the game, both his great-grandfather and grandfather were golf course superintendents in Milwaukee, while his uncle went on to own the Westwood Golf Course in Phillips, Wisc.
Andrew Kress laughed while explaining how his son was even named after a professional golf legend.
“He’s named after Jack Nicklaus, so I think he’s kind of stuck here,” he said.
While the high school season is over, Kress’ next big challenge is defending his back-to-back championship title at the PGA Junior Golf Tournament at Tanners Brook Golf Course in Forest Lake in July. Kress won the tournament as a 12-year-old in the 13-15 age group two years ago, then won again last year with a score of 73 in the 18-and-under division, which he will compete in again this year.
“He has always had to play up based on where his birthday falls,” Andrew Kress said. “I don’t think he’s concerned with the other golfers, though. I think in the pressure and playoff situations, he kind of looks forward to it. He focuses more and hits shots when it matters — that’s what happens when you’ve golfed your whole life.”