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

jack nicklaus cherry hills

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

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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.

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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 Editor

James Colgan is a news and features editor at GOLF, writing stories for the website and magazine. He manages the Hot Mic, GOLF’s media vertical, and utilizes his on-camera experience across the brand’s platforms. Prior to joining GOLF, James graduated from Syracuse University, during which time he was a caddie scholarship recipient (and astute looper) on Long Island, where he is from. He can be reached at