The Best Golf Gambling Stories From the Game’s Biggest Legends
Michael Madrid, USA Today Sports. Pictured: Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus
The Action Network spoke with several of golf’s biggest legends to find out their favorite personal golf betting stories: Mark O’Meara, Nick Price, Gary Player, Davis Love III, Nick Faldo, Lee Janzen, Jack Nicklaus, Bernhard Langer, David Toms, Tom Watson and Lee Trevino.
In a previous series, we spoke with several of today’s biggest stars about their favorite betting stories. You can find those here.
- When: April, 1997
- Where: Orlando, Fla.
One week before the 1997 Masters, O’Meara was playing his home club, Isleworth, with Tiger Woods as they tried to get their games in shape for the year’s first major. The first day they played that week, Tiger shot a 13-under 59 against O’Meara. They decided to play again the next day, but the match wouldn’t last very long.
“We go and hit balls and we’re going to tee it up again. It’s just he and I. We were playing $10 automatic one-downs.
“We tee off on 10. He hit a good drive and knocks one to about 10 feet. I was about 15 feet away. I miss, he makes. So now he’s 1-up and we’re driving quickly up to No. 11, the par-3. He yells over, ‘Mo, you’ve got the autos going, you’re 1-down!’ I’m like, ‘Of course…’
“He gets up to the tee, he’s hitting like an 8-iron. I haven’t even gotten out of my cart, but he hits it and it’s going right at it. It one-hops and goes into the hole for a hole-in-one.
“So I go over and take $100 or whatever it was – I can’t remember – and I put it on his cart seat. I didn’t even hit my shot. I said, ‘That was a really nice shot. I quit. I’ll see you later on the range when you get done.’
“He’s like, ‘Where are you going?’
“I said, ‘I quit. You shot 13-under yesterday, you just jarred that, you’re 16-under for the last 20 holes. I’m not playing golf anymore with you.’
“That was awesome. I hate that guy.”
- When: 1991 Open Championship
- Where: Royal Birkdale Golf Club
Prior to the opening round, Price and instructor David Leadbetter were walking through the exhibition tent and saw betting odds for every player in the field. The number next to Ian Baker-Finch’s name piqued their interest based on what they’d seen of his game leading up to that event.
“I had played with Finchy two weeks before at Oakmont and he’d shot two really good scores, 68-67 or something, and beat us all like a drum.
“I look and see that he’s 33-to-1 to win The Open that week. So, I said to Lead, ‘That’s way too good a bet to pass up.’
“I’ve probably only bet on golf a handful of times and this was one of the first bets I ever made.
“So we put 100 pounds each on Finchy each-way (meaning half the bet goes on the player to win and the other on the player to finish top-5). He birdied four of the first five holes, he came out of the blocks fast. We ended up winning like 4,500 pounds when he won.
“I mean, I made the cut, but I wasn’t playing very well. I don’t know what I made that week, but I made more by gambling on him.
“We were so happy for him – and for us.
“I don’t think I’ve placed another golf bet since then.”
- When: Decades ago
- Where: A goldmine in South Africa
Player’s favorite bet with a golfer didn’t happen on the golf course. Instead, it took place in a goldmine, where he made a bet on the strength of a friend – a friend named Arnold Palmer.
“The Big Three gambled together quite a bit. Throw Lee [Trevino] in there as well. But my favorite gambling story came off the golf course with Arnold Palmer.
“Arnie was in South Africa with me for a couple of exhibition tournaments, doing our part to grow the game globally. Really, we both came from humble beginnings. He knew that I grew up poor. My father was a goldminer, only making enough to feed his children and to make sure we had a proper education.
“Well, I took him down deep underground, about 8,000 feet, in the goldmine where my father worked. They had a nice little tour for people to see the mine, and the captain gathered us around this huge gold vault. He said it was impossible to pick up a single gold bar with the human hand and that nobody had ever done so.
“But Arnie, he had these strong, massive hands like Tarzan.
“I called out Arnie to the captain and said I thought he could do it. Everyone in the room chuckled, but Arnie and I were confident, so we asked to make a bet.