Jack Nicklaus' only golf wager made one of his most famous losses even more crushing

January 24, 2019

With more major championships than anyone in history, Jack Nicklaus could have made a nice living just betting on himself in golf's biggest events. Unfortunately, it sounds like he picked the wrong event the one time he decided to do it.

The Action Network's Jason Sobel has the story directly from the Golden Bear, who says the only time he wagered on himself was ahead of the 1960 U.S. Open. Still an amateur, Nicklaus, eventually an 18-time major champ, said he took $20 of a bet his dad made on him at 35-to-1 odds to win.

“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," Nicklaus told Sobel. “That’s the only wager I’ve ever had on golf ever."

As golf fans know, that year's national championship at Cherry Hills wound up being one of the most famous tournaments in golf history as the 20-year-old Nicklaus battled two of the game's legends, Arnold Palmer and Ben Hogan. In the end, Arnie beat Jack by two strokes to win the first-place prize of $14,400. Hogan famously said, "I played with a kid (Nicklaus) today who could have won this by five, if he knew what he was doing." Alas, Nicklaus didn't get the trophy, earned no money for finishing runner-up due to his amateur status, and now we know he also lost a crisp Andrew Jackson. Ouch.

Not that we blame him. Talk about a value bet. That had to be the last time Nicklaus ever had pre-tournament odds that high. Nicklaus turned pro the following year, beat Palmer in a playoff at the 1962 U.S. Open for his first major title, and never looked back.