(REUTERS) - In an emotional ceremony on Capitol Hill, golfing great Jack Nicklaus was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal on Tuesday.
His wife Barbara, five children and 22 grandchildren were on hand to witness the ceremony, which is the highest civilian award the US Congress can bestow. Speaker John Boehner presided over the ceremony with leaders from the House and Senate.
Son Jack Jr delighted the crowd with a remembrance of a phone call following the end of a round his own golfing career from his father.
"It was June 15, 1980, I had just completed my second round of a local junior golf tournament.The phone rings as I am signing my score card. It's Dad. He asked me how I played. I proceed to tell him my entire round.
Hole by hole, shot by shot, as I finish there is a short silence and I am about to thank dad for calling and say goodbye and he says, 'Jackie would you like to know how your dad did today?' A little embarrassed I quickly say, 'Well, yes how did you do today?' And dad says 'Well I just won the US Open'. That was dad."
NIcklaus was the final speaker of the day and used the occasion to pay tribute to his wife and family.
"I've dodged for years the question about what victory is the most important or most memorable. Yet I don't know if I've ever had a more important victory or a more memorable one than when Barbara Jean Bash became Barbara Nicklaus on July 3, 1960. Were it not for Barbara I would have just been another golfer. People have asked me to quantify Barbara's importance in my career. I'd have to say she's responsible for at least 15 major championships. I'll give myself credit for three," Nicklaus said in tribute to his wife.
Nicknamed "The Golden Bear", Nicklaus won his first major championship at the US Open at Oakmont in Pennsylvania in 1962. He was the first golfer to successfully defend a Masters title which he did in the 1966 tournament.
Between 1971 and 1980 Nicklaus won a total of nine major championships and passed Bobby Jones' record of 13 major championships. Nicklaus captured his 18th and last major championship at the age of 46 at the Masters in 1986.
Nicklaus was also cited for his humanitarian work. Nicklaus heads the Nicklaus Childrens' Health Care Foundation which has raised millions of dollars in support of pediatric health services. His foundation recently pledged 60 million dollars to hospitals in the Miami area.
Joe Louis, Jesse Owens, Jackie Robinson and Arnold Palmer are other athletes who have received the Congressional Gold Medal.