World Golf Hall of Fame Member Jack Nicklaus, whose victories in 18 professional major championships is more than any player in history and whose life outside the ropes has become a shining example for today’s athlete, received the 2013 Ambassador of Golf award Wednesday at Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio. The award is presented annually to a person who has fostered the ideals of the game on an international level and whose concern for others extends beyond the golf course.
Nicklaus was honored on the first tee at Firestone Country Club at an event open to fans attending the Bridgestone Invitational. Several thousand fans crowded the first tee and lined the balconies of the Firestone clubhouse to hear remarks from Nicklaus, his wife Barbara, who was the 1990 Ambassador of Golf, and PGA TOUR Commissioner Tim Finchem. At one point during the Golden Bear’s emotional comments, a fan shouted, “Love you, Jack.”
“I don’t know if I am an Ambassador, but all I tried to do in my life is be the best I could be at a sport, and with the help of Barbara, the best person I could be,” said an emotional Nicklaus. “So thank you for recognizing me with this wonderful award that is perhaps less about what I accomplished on the course, but instead for the course I tried to choose in life.”
“As Barbara and I look back on our careers and our lives together,” Nicklaus said earlier this summer, “we realize and appreciate that golf has contributed to us having a lifetime of fulfillment, enrichment and happiness. But we also felt a responsibility to give back, whenever and wherever we could. A legacy is not what you do on the field or inside the ropes. A legacy is what you leave behind for others and how you are remembered. Golf has always been my vehicle to competition, but golf was also a vehicle for both Barbara and me to give back. Our hope has been to leave the world, even if just the world of golf, a better place than when we arrived. So in some small way, I hope I have used the game of golf, my career and my life to do that.”
Barbara introduced her husband during Wednesday’s ceremony, receiving a standing ovation for her heartfelt comments that left her husband wiping away tears at the podium.
“I have always said there are two people I don’t like to follow when speaking: One is Gary Player and the other is my wife Barbara,” Nicklaus said. “Now, to not only follow her at the podium, but to follow her in receiving this award…I don’t think 23 years is a large enough gap. Although that was 21 grandkids ago.
A tradition when honoring Ambassador of Golf recipients is to unveil a portrait reflecting their career and life. In a piece created by renowned artist Walt Spitzmiller, the images unveiled Wednesday night captured Jack the champion, the global course designer, and the dedicated family man. The painting will hang on the walls of the Firestone clubhouse, not far from the portrait of Barbara—the 1990 Ambassador of Golf and the matriarch of a family of five children and 22 grandchildren.
“Seriously, this scenario could not be more perfect,” Jack said. “Because at the foundation of almost everything I’ve done right in my life there is Barbara serving as an inspiration for me and so many other people. She embodies everything you would want in a friend, a life partner, a mother and grandmother. But she also embodies all the qualities of a true Ambassador.
“When it comes to our family, it might have my name, but Barbara is the face of the family. And it was her role in our family—the load she took on, the sacrifices she made, the diaper pales she hauled all over the country—that allowed me to be the golfer I always wanted to be.”
Among Nicklaus’ 120 professional victories worldwide, he owns a total of 73 PGA TOUR wins, third only to Sam Snead’s 82 and Tiger Woods’ 78. But it is his performance in the major championships alone that sets him above all others. Aside from his two U.S. Amateur Championships, Nicklaus won a record six Masters, a record-tying four U.S. Opens, three British Opens and a record-tying five PGA Championships for a total of 18 professional major victories, more than any golfer in history. He also owns the record for senior major championships with eight.
He completed the modern Grand Slam three times, and, as a senior, went on to win the Grand Slam on the Champions Tour to become the only player in history to accomplish the feat on both tours.
“Jack Nicklaus is the embodiment of all that the Ambassador of Golf Award represents,” Commissioner Finchem said. “On and off the golf course he has represented the game and its ideals with the utmost in class and dignity,” “He has excelled in all facets of our sport. As a player, there is perhaps no equal. He has been a prolific golf course designer, tournament host and successful business man. And, as a philanthropist, he has leveraged his position as a sports legend for the betterment of society through the support of numerous charities, most notably the Nicklaus Children’s Health Care Foundation. “It is very fitting that Jack joins his wife, Barbara, as a recipient of the Ambassador of Golf Award.”
Nicklaus enjoyed several bright moments at Firestone Country Club during his career, including official PGA TOUR victories at the 1968 American Golf Classic, the 1975 PGA Championship and the 1976 World Series of Golf. He also won the World Series of Golf as an exhibition event in 1962, 1963, 1967 and 1970, before the wins were considered official PGA TOUR events. The Golden Bear’s first PGA TOUR event came at Firestone in the 1958 Rubber City Open when he was just an 18-year-old amateur.
Nicklaus turned pro in 1962, and by 1967, he had won seven major championships. Between 1970 and 1975, he added seven more. Nicklaus led the money list eight times, twice while playing only 16 events. Between 1962 and 1979, he finished in the top 10 in 243 of the 357 official events he played in, a rate of 68 percent.
Nicklaus was always known for demonstrating incredible sportsmanship in both victory and defeat. He finished second 19 times in major championships, but always gave credit to the winner. Another memorable example of his sportsmanship came at the 1969 Ryder Cup. With the outcome hanging in the balance, Nicklaus conceded a 2-foot putt to Tony Jacklin on the 18th hole, which resulted in the first tie in Ryder Cup history (the U.S. Team retained the Cup). Nicklaus’ act, known now simply as “The Concession,” is often cited as one of the greatest examples of good sportsmanship.
At The Presidents Cup 2003 in South Africa, Nicklaus, captain of the U.S. Team, was again part of a memorable act of sportsmanship and good will. Nicklaus and International Team Captain Gary Player declared the event a tie after Tiger Woods and Ernie Els traded do-or-die putts on the third hole of a twilight playoff. Nicklaus led the U.S. Team to victory in The Presidents Cup in 2005 and then again in 2007, during his fourth turn as U.S. Team Captain.
Nicklaus has helped shape the game as much away from the competition as in it. He is the founder and host of the Memorial Tournament in Dublin, Ohio, just outside his hometown of Columbus, and the course will host The Presidents Cup 2013 in October, becoming the first venue to host the Ryder Cup (1987), Solheim Cup (1998) and The Presidents Cup. The Nicklaus Companies’ global business includes golf course design, development and licensing around the world. With a philosophy of working closely with clients, enhancing the natural environment, and creating courses that are both challenging and enjoyable for players of all levels, Nicklaus Design has close to 380 courses open for play in 36 countries and 39 states. Of those, Jack Nicklaus has been involved in the design of 290 courses.
Nicklaus and his wife Barbara have a long history of involvement in numerous charitable activities. They are the guiding light for the Nicklaus Children’s Health Care Foundation, which supports numerous pediatric health-care services in South Florida and other markets nationwide. Nicklaus is also a national chairperson of The First Tee, and has twice spoken before Congress on the character-building values of the organization.
In 2005, Nicklaus was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civil award, by President George W. Bush. He is the only individual to be named the “Most Powerful Person in Golf” six times—and consecutively– by Golf Inc. magazine. In November 2007, an exhibit, “Jack Nicklaus: Golf’s Golden Champion,” opened at the World Golf Hall of Fame. Two months later, he was honored with the Woodrow Wilson Award for Corporate Citizenship. In 2008, he was given the Lifetime Achievement Award by the PGA TOUR.
Nicklaus joins an illustrious list of Ambassador of Golf Award winners. Past recipients of the award include Jack’s wife, Barbara Nicklaus, 1990, along with: 1981, Chi Chi Rodriguez; 1982, Bing Crosby; 1983, Byron Nelson; 1984, Gene Sarazen; 1985, President Gerald Ford; 1986, Bob Hope; 1987, Dinah Shore; 1988, Joe Dey; 1989, Frank Chirkinian; 1991, Arnold Palmer; 1992, Nancy Lopez; 1993, Robert DeVincenzo; 1994, President George H.W. Bush; 1995, Michael Bonnallack; 1996, Deane Beman; 1997, Peter Thomson; 1998, Ken Venturi; 1999, Gary Player; 2000, Ben Hogan and Sam Snead; 2001, Del de Windt; 2002, Joanne Carner; 2003, Robert Dedman, Sr. and Jack Vickers; 2004, Lee Trevino; 2005, Pete Dye; 2006, Ken Schofield; 2007, Tony Jacklin; 2008, Charlie Sifford; 2009, Hale Irwin; 2010, Tom Watson; 2011, Nick Price; and 2012, Nick Faldo.