Jack Nicklaus' First PGA Tour Tournaments and Pro Debut

Jack Nicklaus was in his late teens when he began showing up in PGA Tour tournaments. That was the late 1950s. And Nicklaus' entry into a tournament in those days, when he was building a great amateur record, always garnered attention. But what was his first PGA Tour appearance? How'd he do? And what about his pro debut — after turning pro, where did make his first PGA Tour start?

Those are the questions answered in this article. Note that Nicklaus first gained a bit of national notice when he won the 1956 Ohio Open at age 16, competing against a field comprised of many tour pros along with amateurs. That was not a PGA Tour event, however, and Nicklaus, at that time, had not yet won any USGA championships.

Nicklaus' First PGA Tour Start

The first golf tournament Nicklaus played that is counted as an official PGA Tour event was the 1957 U.S. Open. That major was played at Inverness Club in Toledo, Jack's home state of Ohio.

Nicklaus played his way into it through a sectional qualifier at Cincinnati Golf Club. In the qualifier Nicklaus shot 68-71 for a 139 total. That was six behind the qualifier winner, Gay Brewer (who at that time was an assistant pro at Cincinnati Country Club), but good enough to get Nicklaus into the field at the U.S. Open.

Nicklaus was 17 and the youngest player in the field. He posted back-to-back scores of 80 to finish at 20-over-par 160 and miss the cut.

Nicklaus continued playing the U.S. Open every year through 2000, a record 44 consecutive starts. And it all began at the 1957 U.S. Open, his very first appearance in a tournament counted as a PGA Tour event.

His First Start in Non-Major on the PGA Tour

That U.S. Open was a major championship, a tournament counted as a PGA Tour event but actually run by another organization (the USGA). So when did Nicklaus make his first start in a "regular" PGA Tour tournament, a non-major?

That was the 1958 Rubber City Open Invitational, which concluded on July 6, 1958. It was played at another Ohio course, Firestone Country Club in Akron.

The 18-year-old Nicklaus opened with rounds of 67 and 66 and was tied for third place at that point. He finished with a final-round 68. But a 76 in the third round knocked him out of contention. Still, Jack posted 7-under 277 and tied for 15th place (erroneously reported as 12th on Nicklaus' own website). Nicklaus finished eight strokes behind the winner, Art Wall Jr.

His entry in the tournament and his play during the tournament drew plenty of media attention. Newspaper reports called him the "sensational amateur from Columbus, Ohio," "long-driving, sharp-putting" and "18-year-old powerhouse golfer." Nicklaus played the Rubber City Open two weeks after he dominated the 36-hole championship match of the 1958 Trans-Mississippi Amateur, losing only two holes.

Nicklaus remained an amateur until close to the end of 1961, turning pro in time to join the PGA Tour for the start of its 1962 season. What was his best PGA Tour finish while still an amateur? He tied (with Ben Hogan) for second place in the 1960 U.S. Open.

Nicklaus' Pro Debut on the PGA Tour

After Nicklaus turned pro, where did he first play on the PGA Tour? His professional debut on the PGA Tour happened at the 1962 Los Angeles Open, which concluded on January 8. Nicklaus was a couple weeks shy of his 22nd birthday.

His pro debut drew lots of media attention, too, but the result was a bit of an anti-climax: Nicklaus finished in a tie for 50th place. He had rounds of 74-70-72-73, posting a total of 5-over-par 289.

How much money did Nicklaus earn in his pro debut? His 50th-place paycheck was for $33.33.

The winner of the 1962 Los Angeles Open was Phil Rodgers, considered at that time a major rival to Nicklaus for the title of young pro with the brightest future. Rodgers won by nine strokes with a total of 268. Rodgers' PGA Tour career never lived up to the hype (although he won five times total), but Nicklaus' sure did. But over the years, there were a few times when Nicklaus turned to Rodgers, who eventually became a teaching pro, for help with his game. In particular, Nicklaus gave Rodgers a lot of credit for helping him with his wedge play just prior to Nicklaus' win in the 1980 U.S. Open.

But back to 1962: The Los Angeles Open was the PGA Tour's season-opener. Nicklaus' first pro victory happened later that year, in his 18th start. And it was a big one — he won the 1962 U.S. Open.

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