“A process of elimination,” he explained.
Charlie Nicklaus had played semi-pro football, and was glad to see his son’s interest in the sport. Young Jack played quarterback — but his hands weren’t big enough to keep a firm grip on the football, especially when the weather turned wet (as it sometimes did in the Ohio autumns). Frustrated, Jack finally gave up the sport.
That decision didn’t sit well with his dad. “He was a little upset when I ended that,” Jack said, “but he got over that.”
In baseball, Jack was a catcher (the much smaller ball not being an issue). Jack admits it was probably his best sport. But the baseball season coincided with the golf season, and it became too much trouble to organize a game. “You had to wait for a bunch of kids to show up in the dry dust — and I didn’t like that,” Nicklaus said.
Basketball was the best fit for young Jack’s active schedule, as it came during the winter when snow covered the driving range. Jack played all through high school, and was even recruited by Ohio State. But he realized he was neither big enough (5-foot-10) nor quick enough to compete at that level.
Charlie Nicklaus was a city champion in tennis, and he taught his son how to play. But it required another competitor on the other side of the net.
Golf, meanwhile, was something Jack could do at any time. He didn’t need anybody else in order to play. He could wake up first thing in the morning, walk to the course and spend all day there. The only limitation in getting better — and in turn, achieving success — was how much Jack wanted to practice.
In other words, he alone controlled his own fate. It was the perfect sport for him.
“I could be as good as I wanted, by my own effort,” Nicklaus said. “Nobody threw the ball back, nobody to guard you. It’s all individual. Nobody hit it across the net.
“I could do my own thing. I happened to like that. … All these sports, golf turned out to be the one that I could do everything that I wanted to do by myself.”