‘I’m Not Here to Place and Show’: The Story of Jack Nicklaus’ Only Wager on Himself
Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports
- The only time Jack Nicklaus ever bet on himself to win a golf tournament came at the 1960 U.S. Open.
- Nicklaus’ father, Charlie, got him at 35-1 to win, and Jack put up $20 of his money.
- Nicklaus, an amateur at the time, finished in sole second place to Arnold Palmer.
- “I think I was more worried about winning $700 and getting married a month later as much as I was worried about winning the U.S. Open,” he recalled this week at The Memorial Tournament.
DUBLIN, Ohio — Jack Nicklaus never wagered on the golf course.
Well, at least not during a tournament.
The host of this week’s Memorial Tournament explained Tuesday afternoon that he’d usually have a bet for “10 or 20 bucks” against his playing partners in practice rounds, but never during the actual competition.
“I never had a wager with another golfer in a tournament,” Nicklaus said. “A lot of guys would have a bet in a tournament. I always said, ‘I’ve got my mind on enough things. I’m playing golf, I’m playing in a tournament.’”
In fact, despite winning 73 career PGA Tour titles, including 18 major championships, Nicklaus only once had a little action on himself to win.
This was in 1960, just a month before he was to marry Barbara, now his wife of 57 years.
Nicklaus was the reigning U.S. Amateur champion and as such, he was competing in the U.S. Open at Cherry Hills Country Club as an amateur, with no potential prize money at stake.
“My dad came to me,” recalled Nicklaus, “and he said, ‘Hey, they’ve got you at 35-1. You want some of that?’”
Just 20 years old at the time and fearing a marriage with no imminent income, Jack quickly answered his father, Charlie, a pharmacist and good golfer in his own right, who was apparently bullish on his son that week.
“I’ll have $20,” the son replied, immediately thinking about the $700 windfall that would come with a victory.
Charlie followed with another question.
“You want win, place and show?”
Jack didn’t hesitate answering this one, either.
“I’m not here to place and show,” he candidly told his father.
That week’s U.S. Open turned into an epic competition. In the opening two rounds, played Thursday and Friday, Nicklaus posted matching scores of 71-71 to trail leader Mike Souchak by seven strokes entering the 36-hole marathon finale on Saturday.
Nicklaus posted a 69 over the first 18 holes, grabbing a share of fifth place alongside Ben Hogan going into the afternoon’s final stanza.
With an eagle on the fifth hole and a birdie on the ninth, Nicklaus briefly moved into the lead. Two three-putts on the back nine dropped him on the leaderboard, though, as hard-charging Arnold Palmer, who’d trailed by seven strokes entering the final round, shot an unlikely 65 to race past him and claim the title.
Nicklaus finished alone in second place, two strokes behind the champion.
Not only did he lose that $20 by failing to hedge his bet on a runner-up result, he missed out on nearly $8,000 in prize money that he would have secured had he owned professional status.
Recalling that week in the Muirfield Village interview room, Nicklaus admitted the wager was on his mind while he was competing.
“I think I was more worried about winning $700 and getting married a month later as much as I was worried about winning the U.S. Open,” he said.
Whether he was scared off by the defeat or simply uninterested in trying another time, Nicklaus would never again bet on himself to win a tournament.
The man who holds so many of golf’s most hallowed records probably could’ve made that $20 back.