The game of golf has given a lot to Barbara and Jack Nicklaus: money, fame, a platform to pursue their causes and dreams.
On Tuesday at Chambers Bay, Barbara Nicklaus was recognized for what she’s given back.
The United States Golf Association awarded her its Bob Jones Award, the organization’s highest honor.
“Barbara’s generosity of spirit and deep respect for the game have touched the lives of countless families throughout the world,” USGA president Thomas J. O’Toole Jr. said in a news release. “Her dedication to support players and spouses, and advocacy for multiple causes, are worthy of our highest honor.”
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Those causes include junior golf programs across the nation and children’s health initiatives in South Florida, where she and her husband of 55 years make their home. The couple this year pledged $60 million to the Miami Children’s Health Initiative, a gift funneled through their Nicklaus Children’s Health Care Foundation.
Barbara Nicklaus, with her husband at her side, addressed reporters at the U.S. Open media center at Chambers Bay, just a few hours before receiving the Bob Jones Award at a gala event at Tacoma’s Museum of Glass.
It was a lovefest, with each Nicklaus crediting the other with providing the support that allowed them both to succeed.
“We’ve been a good team,” Barbara said.
It was a long and winding road for the couple.
Jack Nicklaus recalled the efforts his wife made to ensure their children knew their father, even as he was traveling the country to play in tournaments.
“I mean, I don’t know how many times I’d be on the West Coast playing and here comes on the weekend my wife with two kids in diapers and another one out of diapers and showing up at an airport just because she wanted to make sure her kids knew their dad,” he said.
It wasn’t always easy, Barbara Nicklaus agreed.
“Yes, he was busy and he was gone a lot, but I think I was always proud of him, and I always wanted him to be proud of me,” she said. “And he gave me the capabilities to do that and never said no.”
The couple became interested in children’s health issues after a scare with one of their five children. Their 11-month-old daughter inhaled part of a crayon, a piece of which got into her lung. That necessitated a stay at Columbus Children’s Hospital in Ohio.
Barbara Nicklaus said the doctors and nurses there saved their daughter’s life.
“We kind of looked at each other and said if we’re ever in a position to help anyone, we want it to be children,” she said. “If we’ve helped one family, we’re happy.”
The couple said they hope to expand their children’s health care foundation.
“We have our work cut out for us,” Barbara Nicklaus said.
And she credited golf, and her husband’s ability to play it so brilliantly, with giving them that chance.
“It’s made our life a wonderful life,” she said.