Surrounded by hundreds of friends, family and fans, Jack Nicklaus received the Congressional Gold Medal at the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday afternoon. He is the third professional golfer to receive the award. Byron Nelson was the first golfer to receive the award in 2006. Arnold Palmer, who attended Tuesday’s ceremony, was the second golfer to receive the award, in 2009.
The award honors those “who have performed an achievement that has an impact on American history and culture that is likely to be recognized as a major achievement in the recipient’s field long after the achievement.”
Obviously, Nicklaus’s record-breaking achievements in golf were honored. He’s won 120 pro tournaments and racked up a record 18 professional major-championship victories, including:
- Six Masters tournaments (1963, 1965, 1966, 1972, 1975, 1986), the most Green Jackets in history
- Five PGA Championships (1963, 1971, 1973, 1975, 1980)
- Four U.S. Opens (1962, 1967, 1972, 1980)
- Three British Opens (1966, 1970, 1978)
Just as much for his skills on the links, Congress also voted to honor Nicklaus because of his philanthropy. Nicklaus and his wife Barbara have devoted millions of dollars to the Nicklaus Children’s Healthcare Foundation, which seeks to provide medical care to kids in need. Last week, after making a $60 million pledge to the Miami Children’s Hospital, the hospital changed its name to Nicklaus Children’s Health Care.
Numerous members of Congress, including House Majority Speaker John Boehner, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Harry Reid lauded praise on Nicklaus and his family for their achievements. PGA Tour announcer Jim Nantz also spoke.
“He has been an American treasure and our gift to the world,” Nantz said of Nicklaus.
Jack Nicklaus Jr. rounded out the speeches, giving an emotional tribute to his dad in front of the packed house that included Donald Trump, who Nicklaus once collaborated with to design the Trump Golf Links Ferry Point course in Bronx, New York.
After more than an hour of praise and a performance by the Ohio State Marching Band, Nicklaus ascended to the podium to accept the award.
“My son Jackie was about 6 years old, and somebody asked him what does your dad do and he said, ‘Nothing, he just plays golf,’ ” Nicklaus said, adding, “I did play golf. I played the greatest game of all.”
The 75-year-old wasn’t just talking about his game in particular, but the game of golf in general.
“For millions of people, golf does so much more. The game of golf has given more back to charity than all of the major sports combined,” Nicklaus said, concluding, “Yes, Jackie, I just play golf. But my whole life work was to make you all proud of me. Hopefully I have.”
Meanwhile, plenty of others in Congress and/or the golf community took to Twitter to congratulate Nicklaus.