March 24, 2015 – Members of both houses of Congress took an 80-minute break from the business of running the country Tuesday to award North Palm Beach golf legend Jack Nicklaus the Congressional Gold Medal.
Nicklaus, an Ohio native who has been a resident of Lost Tree Village since 1975, becomes the seventh athlete and third golfer to receive the honor. Others are Roberto Clemente, Joe Louis, Jackie Robinson, Jesse Owens, Byron Nelson and Arnold Palmer, who was on hand for Tuesday’s ceremony.
Nicklaus’ wife, Barbara, his five children and 22 grandchildren and their families also were present.
The award was co-sponsored by Sens. Sherrod Brown and Rob Portman, of Nicklaus’ native Ohio, and signed into law by President Barack Obama on Dec. 16. Nicklaus was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush in 2005.
CBS Sports commentator Jim Nantz was the first in a lengthy line of speakers, and reflected on what Nicklaus has called his greatest accomplishment, his victory in the 1986 Masters. That win, which came when Nicklaus was 46, was referenced numerous times in the proceedings.
Jack Nicklaus receives Congressional Gold Medal photo
Another recurring theme was the philanthropic efforts of Jack and Barbara Nicklaus, which only last week resulted in Miami Children’s Hospital being renamed the Nicklaus Children’s Hospital in recognition of a $60 million pledge from the Nicklaus Children’s Health Care Foundation.
Following Nantz to the podium were Ohio Rep. Patrick Tiberi and Portman.
Portman recalled that Nicklaus began his career when he shot 51 for nine holes at Scioto Country Club in his native Columbus. Soon afterward, Nicklaus hooked up with teacher Jack Grout and, said Portman, “People said, ’Let’s watch this guy.’”
Jack Nicklaus II, the oldest of the couple’s five children, spoke next. He opened with a story from June 1980 when he was playing in a Palm Beach County junior event and, after receiving a phone call from his dad, went over every shot in his round, a recounting that took some 20 minutes.
“When I was done, there was a short silence and I thought it was about time to hang up. Then he asked, ’Jackie boy, would you like to know how your dad did? I just won the U.S. Open.’”
Jackie also recalled his memories of caddying for his father in the 1986 Masters and the embrace they shared after he had holed his final putt.
“It was his moment in time. A moment so earned, a moment so deserved,” Jackie said. Jack Nicklaus wiped away tears as his son returned to his seat.
Up next in succession were House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, who sat beside Nicklaus.
Boehner noted that Jackie Nicklaus “was worried about having a Boehner moment up here” and then had one himself, tearing up as he heaped more accolades on Nicklaus and his family, most notably recalling episodes when Nicklaus showed great sportsmanship in defeat.
Boehner concluded his remarks by referencing CBS commentator Vern Lundquist with the words, “The Congressional Gold Medal goes to the gentleman from Ohio, the Golden Bear, Jack Nicklaus!”
Nicklaus’ theme for his 10-minute talk was summed up by Jackie’s response as a young boy when a friend asked him what his father did for a living: “He doesn’t do anything. He just plays golf.”
Nicklaus, of course, went on to win a record 18 major championships among 73 PGA Tour wins.
Noting that the golf industry as a whole has raised approximately $4 billion for charities, Nicklaus quipped: “We just play golf. And boy, are we proud that we do.”
Nicklaus concluded by noting that the gold medal he received featured six stars on the back, one for each of his children and a sixth, larger one representing Barbara.
“I’ve dodged the question about which one of my victories is the most memorable,” he added. “I don’t know if I’ve ever had one more important or more memorable than when Barbara Jean Bash became Barbara Nicklaus.”