Jack Nicklaus has earned hundreds of trophies, medals and honors during his illustrious golf career, including four U.S. Open Championships among his 18 professional major victories.
On March 24, the Golden Bear received Congress’ highest civilian accolade, the Congressional Gold Medal, in a ceremony at the Capitol Rotunda in Washington, D.C.
It was an emotional ceremony attended by Nicklaus’ wife, 2015 USGA Bob Jones Award recipient Barbara Nicklaus; all five of Nicklaus’ children; his 22 grandchildren; longtime rival and friend Arnold Palmer; members of The Ohio State University marching band; and dozens of elected officials.
Jack Nicklaus Jr., who caddied for his father when he won the last of his 18 majors at the 1986 Masters, offered a fitting tribute to the world’s greatest golfer.
At the age of 46, Nicklaus became the oldest winner of the Masters. What the younger Nicklaus recalled most was the sheer joy his father found in sharing the experience with his son.
“I knew I had his full focus, I felt like I mattered and I felt loved,” Nicklaus Jr. said in his speech. “That’s what it’s like to be his son.”
Although Nicklaus was a champion golfer, he always found time for his family, never allowing his schedule to interfere with his children’s and grandchildren’s activities.
The 75-year-old Nicklaus thanked his hard-working parents, his wife and his family for their role in his unparalleled career. He said that all he wanted to do in life was make his family proud of him, adding, “Hopefully I have.”
Many of the speakers praised Nicklaus’ charitable work, including the Nicklaus Children’s Health Care Foundation, which recently pledged $60 million to the Miami Children’s Health System.
“Few transcend their sport to achieve that kind of moment, or this kind of honor,” said House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), an avid golfer himself. “With Arnold [Palmer], it was how he brought an audience to the game – an army. With Jack, it’s how he gave the game a gold standard – a ladder to climb.”
Along with his record number of major championships, Nicklaus claimed a pair of U.S. Amateur titles and represented the USA on two victorious Walker Cup Teams before turning professional. His first professional win came in an 18-hole playoff over Palmer in the 1962 U.S. Open at Oakmont (Pa.) Country Club, which was also the first of his record-tying four U.S. Open victories.
Nicklaus and Palmer are the only golfers to have won a U.S. Amateur, U.S. Open and U.S. Senior Open. Nicklaus, like Palmer, has designed hundreds of golf courses, some of which have been utilized for USGA championships.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) called him “saintly.”
“He’s already a legend,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), “but he hasn’t stopped.”
Nicklaus, who received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005, joined Palmer as the only golfers to receive both honors.
The award is the result of a bipartisan effort in the House and Senate. Previous recipients include Olympic gold medalist Jesse Owens, film producer and cartoonist Walt Disney and President George Washington.
Material from the Associated Press and the Columbus Dispatch was used in this report.