Jack Nicklaus recently told a writer that he plays golf only about once a month, "when I have to."
He doesn't miss it at all, he said. It was always about the competition, he said, and now that he is no longer competitive, he has little interest in playing. It was painful to read that Jack Nicklaus doesn't even want to play golf, but even heroes have to yield to the years.
I read that and I thought back over the last half century to a conversation Nicklaus and I had in November, 1960, when he was an 18-year-old amateur, when it was all just budding.
We were talking about a wide range of things and when we came to the point where his future was the question, he told me flatly, "You can print this or not, I will never turn pro."
He was thinking of a career in insurance or pharmacy. His dad owned three drugstores and was planning to build more.
"He has tried to build up something for my sister Marilyn and me," said Nicklaus. "He will be retiring soon and the businesses will be ours. My sister and I will be financially well-off."
Ideally, Nicklaus said, he would like to work eight months and play golf for four months.
Money was not anywhere near the factor then that it is now. Lots of good players opted not to turn pro because they could make more money in business.
Less than a year after we talked, though, he did the sensible thing and turned pro. Someone convinced him that if he wanted to win major championships the way his idol Bobby Jones had done, it would take a fulltime effort.
Also, Mark McCormack, who would become a super agent, skirted the money issue by assuring him that he would make a lot in prizes and endorsements.
And insurance lost a salesman and golf gained a god.
I've tried to imagine what Nicklaus would have done in golf if he hadn't turned pro. How many amateur titles would he have racked up? Would he still have won 18 major championships, including six Augusta Masters?
Hard to say. Probably not, because he wouldn't have been as tournament-hardened and he wouldn't have worked as hard on his game if he held a job.
The world got lucky when Nicklaus turned pro and over the next half century became the greatest champion we had seen.
And, oh, by the way, the world got lucky with Arnold Palmer, too. At one point, he was thinking of being a paint salesman.