March 24, 2015

WASHINGTON (AP) The Golden Bear got a gold medal.

Congress on Tuesday awarded its highest civilian honor to golfing great Jack Nicklaus, who accepted the medal with a few tears, humility and humor.

In a ceremony in the Capitol Rotunda, the House and Senate leadership bestowed the award on Nicklaus, winner of 18 major championships, including six Masters titles, five PGA championships and four U.S. Opens.

''Few transcend their sport to achieve that kind of moment, or this kind of honor,'' said House Speaker John Boehner, an avid golfer who grew emotional at times during the ceremony. ''With Arnie (Palmer), it was how he brought an audience to the game - an army. With Jack, it's how he gave the game a gold standard - a ladder to climb.''

The 75-year-old Nicklaus, dubbed the Golden Bear, recalled the hard work of his parents, praised his family and paid tribute to his wife, Barbara. He recalled that when his son Jack was six, he was asked what his father did for a living. The younger Nicklaus said, ''Nothing, he just plays golf.''

An emotional Nicklaus told his family that his whole life he wanted to make them proud of him, and ''hopefully I have.''

The speakers, from congressional leaders to Nicklaus' son, recalled the drama of the golfer's 1986 win at the Masters. They praised Nicklaus' charitable work, including the Nicklaus Children's Health Care Foundation, which recently pledged $60 million to the Miami Children's Health System.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Nicklaus had a brush with polio as a teenager. McConnell said that as a fellow survivor of polio he appreciated Nicklaus' perseverance.

Attending the ceremony for Nicklaus was golfing legend Arnold Palmer. The Ohio State marching band performed for the Ohio-born Nicklaus.

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