Barbara Nicklaus honored with PGA's Distinguished Service Award

Barbara Nicklaus honored with PGA's Distinguished Service Award

Golf

Barbara Nicklaus honored with PGA's Distinguished Service Award

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Barbara Nicklaus still remembers the color of the crayon. It was blue.

At 11 months old, Nan Nicklaus, the middle child of the five Nicklaus children and the only girl, was coughing and choking, but doctors couldn’t figure out why. Barbara and husband Jack finally took Nan to Columbus Children’s Hospital, where an X-Ray revealed a shadow near her lung. It turned out a crayon was lodged in her windpipe.

Using an adult bronchoscope, doctors removed the crayon but pieces of it broke off and fell into her lungs. Nan contracted pneumonia and had to be kept in an oxygen tent in intensive care for six days before she made a full recovery.

The episode left a lasting mark on the Nicklauses: “We looked at each other and said if we’re ever in a position to help anyone, we want it to be children,” Barbara recalled. “If we’ve helped one family, we’re happy.”

More: Jack, Barbara Nicklaus inspire through philanthropic work

The Nicklaus contribution has touched the lives of countless young people, which is why Barbara was honored with the PGA of America’s Distinguished Service Award, the association’s highest honor, on Nov. 5 at its 103rd Annual Meeting in West Palm Beach, Florida. Jack was a recipient of the same recognition in 2000, for an award that dates to 1988 and is presented to individuals who display leadership and humanitarian qualities, including integrity, sportsmanship and enthusiasm for the game of golf.

“Barbara Nicklaus exemplifies what the words ‘giving back’ truly means,” said PGA president Suzy Whaley.

Barbara and Jack first organized the Columbus Pro-Am to raise funds for the Nationwide Children’s Hospital, the very same hospital that saved Nan’s life. Then he and Barbara took it to the next level with the creation of the Memorial Tournament, founded in 1976 at Muirfield Village Golf Club in Dublin, Ohio, which has benefited the hospital since its inaugural year. The tournament has raised more than $36 million for the hospital and other Central Ohio charities.

Barbara is the chair and co-founder of the Nicklaus Children’s Health Care Foundation, which was established in 2004 to support numerous pediatric healthcare services in South Florida and across the U.S. As chair of the Foundation, Barbara has been the catalyst to raising more than $100 million in nearly 15 years.

“To say I was speechless when Suzy Whaley called to inform me that I was to receive this award would be an understatement,” Barbara said. “When I took a minute to think about the award, I realized that I have a huge passion for a short four-letter word – golf – and that golf has been a very important part of my life for almost 60 years. It has opened so many doors to allow me to attempt to ‘give back’ to the game.”

Jack Nicklaus, holding his trophy, hugs wife Barbara after winning the 1970 British Open.

Born Barbara Jean Bash in Columbus, Ohio, in 1940, she was a pre-nursing student at The Ohio State University, where she met her future husband. The hot-tub drowning of the Nicklauses’ 17-month-old grandson Jake in 2005 inspired them to step up efforts. The Nicklauses’ partnership with Miami Children’s Hospital, the only licensed specialty hospital exclusively for children in South Florida, aligned with their vision of accessible, quality health care for kids. The collaboration began in 2010 with the opening of the Nicklaus Care Center, although the relationship informally goes back further.

Jack focused his efforts on golf during his playing career, but always admired his wife’s efforts. Since retiring from competitive golf, he’s jumped right in and fallen hard for helping bring hope to babies.

“I tease him that I’ve had to give him a raise three times this year,” Barbara said. “Zero to double zero to triple zero.”

In March 2015, the Nicklauses’ support of children’s hospitals was recognized when Miami Children’s Hospital was rebranded as Nicklaus Children’s Hospital. In November 2017, the entire Miami Children’s Health System, which features 15 outpatient centers, was renamed the Nicklaus Children’s Health System. Earlier this year, Jack and Barbara pledged to raise $100 million over the next five years for children’s hospitals through the Play Yellow campaign.

And it all started with a blue crayon.

“There’s a saying that a baby is God’s opinion that life should go on and that’s how we feel,” Barbara said.

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