But as Jack’s golf game developed, it became apparent the sport would be an integral part of his future. He would need to devote more attention to it — longer practices, more travel. Working full-time at the drugstore was no longer an option.
He remained intent on keeping his amateur status, so Jack switched his major and started down a path to sell insurance. It was something he could do part-time and make enough money to support the family that he and Barbara were starting.
Eventually, Nicklaus left college just a few hours short of earning his degree at Ohio State (the school did give him an honorary doctorate in 1972). As a 21-year-old insurance salesman, he made $12,000. He made another $12,000 working for a slacks company and playing golf with the manufacturer’s customers.
Considering his first house cost $22,000, it was more than enough to live on. But that’s not how he wanted to spend his life.
“I’d have done fine, but I would have been miserable,” Jack once wrote. “All I ever wanted to do was play competitive golf against the best players in the world.”
And so Jack Nicklaus turned pro. Nov. 8, 1961. The day before, he sent a letter to USGA Executive Director Joe Dey to tell him the news. “Writing this letter has not been a pleasant chore,” Nicklaus wrote.
Becoming a pro was not an easy decision for the man who idolized legendary amateur star Bobby Jones.
But it was the right one.