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The Road Not Taken
ALEXANDER WOLFF
December 27, 2004
Lombardi's invincible Eagles? Gordie Howe of the Rangers? Jack Nicklaus, filler of prescriptions? These things almost came to pass, as we found in exploring sports' most intriguing might have beens
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December 27, 2004

The Road Not Taken

Lombardi's invincible Eagles? Gordie Howe of the Rangers? Jack Nicklaus, filler of prescriptions? These things almost came to pass, as we found in exploring sports' most intriguing might have beens

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ROAD TAKEN Pros Ken Rosewell and Lew Hoad, figuring that the '62 Grand Slam winner and fellow Aussie would goose the gate, personally guaranteed Laver $110,000 over three years to join them in barnstorming the world in a series of mostly one-night stands. Laver accepted, thus forfeiting his amateur status.

NOW IT CAN BE TOLD In 1966 Laver asked a Cleveland lawyer named Mark McCormack, founder of a new sports agency focused on golfers called International Management Group, to take him on as a client. McCormack turned Laver down, believing there wasn't enough money in tennis to make it worthwhile. But in 1968, McCormack, now foreseeing the potential riches of the Open Era in tennis, added Laver to his stable.

LOST IN THE MIST Right after turning pro, Laver was invited to the 1962 U.S. National Indoor in New York City but didn't want to leave balmy Australia. So he held up promoters for what he thought was an extortionate appearance fee: $1,000 plus expenses. They agreed--which left Laver grumbling that he should have asked for more.

JACK NICKLAUS

Registered pharmacist

ROAD NOT TAKEN Like his father, Charlie, a Columbus pharmacist, Jack Nicklaus grew up idolizing Bobby Jones, the beau ideal of the well-rounded gentleman who golfed for love, not money. After winning his second U.S. Amateur title, in 1961, Nicklaus faced a decision: Would he do what most golfers then did, make a living at something other than golf--working odd jobs, taking a gig as a wintertime teaching pro or, as was expected in the Nicklaus household, running the family pharmacy? Or would he cast his lot with Mark McCormack, who was helping pros like Arnold Palmer and Gary Player get rich? A letter from Jones urged Nicklaus to remain an amateur, and it briefly carried the day.

ROAD TAKEN Less than a week later, after weighing the needs of his wife, Barbara, and their infant son, Jackie, and assessing where golf was headed, Nicklaus changed his mind.

NOW IT CAN BE TOLD After deciding to turn pro, Nicklaus hedged yet again. He wrote a letter to the USGA renouncing his amateur status but didn't send it. Barbara, who had had enough of her husband's vacillation, went ahead and mailed the letter.

LOST IN THE MIST Bobby Jones cast a spell on two generations of Nicklaus men. As Jones won the 1926 U.S. Open at Scioto Country Club in Columbus, the course where Jack would later learn the game, 13year-old Charlie watched him strike every shot. Some 29 years later, after seeing 15-year-old Jack reach a par-five in two shots at the U.S. Amateur at the James River course of the Country Club of Virginia, Jones introduced himself and promised to come out to show his support. The next day, after spotting Jones in the gallery, Nicklaus developed a case of nerves; recognizing this, Jones quickly left the course. Nicklaus went on to win six Masters. Jones, who died in 1971 of the spinal disease syringomyelia, saw three of those victories.

HOWARD COSELL

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