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Sometimes the right choice is changing course

The drama unfolding on the TV screen Sunday, David Eger battling down to the wire with Tom Watson before losing the Senior PGA Championship in a playoff, brought back the memory of a conversation Eger and I had several years ago.

He and I had played a lot together at Carolina Golf Club here when he was a school kid. Our paths kept crossing through the years as he tried playing the PGA Tour and then got into administration with that tour and with the US Golf Association. While he was going about his business, he kept his game from gathering too much rust.

He won the Men's North & South Amateur in Pinehurst in 1991, which is just a half-step behind the US Amateur in prestige.

A few years later, I went out to watch him play in the North & South again and as we walked, I asked if he was planning to play on what was then the Senior Tour when he turned 50.

He said, "You will never see me out there."

Fortunately for Eger, he had a change of heart and a decade - and $6 million -- later, there he was Sunday, within a stroke of winning one of senior golf's major championships.

It reminded me of a similar situation involving Jack Nicklaus.

Back in the day, if you said publicly that you were planning to turn pro, the USGA would automatically turn you pro right then.

With that in mind, I tiptoed into the question I was asking the brilliant amateur Jack Nicklaus during an interview for a national magazine in the Augusta National clubhouse.

"If you are certain you will never turn pro," I said, "we can print that but if you think you might turn pro, we can just drop the subject."

Nicklaus said, "You can print this or not - I will never turn pro."

He said he was going into pharmacy, his father's business.

Less than a year later, he did the right thing and turned pro, which was OK with me. I had already been paid for the magazine story.

After Billy Joe Patton won the nation's hearts with his near miss in the 1954 Augusta Masters, finishing one shot out of a playoff with Ben Hogan and Sam Snead, there was speculation that he would turn pro but he didn't.

The reason, he later explained, was that he could make more money in the lumber business he had in Morganton than he could make on tour.

Good call.

For winning the Masters that year, Snead earned $5,000. For finishing second, Hogan was paid $3,125.