How Jack Nicklaus lost his ‘one and only bet on golf’

Jack Nicklaus at Cherry Hills, the site of his only lost golf bet.

Getty Images

Jack Nicklaus has never been much of a gambling man — well, other than trying to cut off the occasional dogleg or drive the green on a short par-4.

But there was that one time, the 18-time major champion said Tuesday during his annual round with the media at the Memorial Tournament.

“I’ll tell you, I’ve placed my one and only bet on the game of golf,” Nicklaus began.

adam scott miura irons
How Adam Scott’s Jack Nicklaus-esque Miura irons came to life
By: Jonathan Wall

He said that his sole golf wager came back in 1960, when he was an amateur out of Ohio State with aspirations of working for his father’s pharmacy. In those days, Nicklaus was far from a household name. Far enough from one, in fact, to be a distant long shot in that year’s national championship.

“I was 20 years old, I was playing the U.S. Open at Cherry Hills, and my dad came to me,” Nicklaus said. “I’m an amateur now, this is June. I’m getting married in July. He goes, ‘Jack, you’re 35 to 1. Do you want some of that?'”

To which Jack replied, “Dad, I’ll take $20 of that.”

Nicklaus was, naturally, uninterested in the idea of placing that money on a top-10 of even top-25 finish.

“So I took $20,” Nicklaus remembered. “He said, ‘Do you want win, place or show?” I said, ‘I’m not here for place or show.'”

I’m not here for place or show.

Jack Nicklaus

A week later, there was Jack Nicklaus — all of 20 years old — making a major championship pronouncement at Cherry Hills. But as Sunday afternoon turned to evening, Nicklaus’ best efforts were too little. His two-under 282 for the week was good enough to win him low amateur honors, but alas, not quite good enough to best Arnold Palmer, whose four-under 280 won the national title.

The loss taught Nicklaus a few valuable lessons about professional golf, the first of which carried with him through each of the 18 major championships to follow: never, ever count your winnings early.

“I’m coming down the stretch at the U.S. Open as a 20-year-old amateur,” Nicklaus said. “I’m thinking about the $700 that I might make to go start our marriage. Well, I didn’t win, so I didn’t get the $700. I lost my $20, my one and only bet in golf.”

James Colgan

Golf.com Editor

James Colgan is an assistant editor at GOLF, contributing stories for the website and magazine. He writes the Hot Mic, GOLF’s weekly media column, and utilizes his broadcast experience across the brand’s social media and video platforms. A 2019 graduate of Syracuse University, James — and evidently, his golf game — is still defrosting from four years in the snow. Prior to joining GOLF, James was a caddie scholarship recipient (and astute looper) on Long Island, where he is from. He can be reached at james.colgan@golf.com.