Jack Nicklaus and the Love of His Life

by Jeff Skinner

Jack Nicklaus turns seventy today and he never hesitates when he tells you what made him such a success in professional golf.  Of course he had unparalleled skills and a mental toughness that was unmatched. Nicklaus will tell you that it wasn’t those attributes that allowed him to become the golfer he was.  It was his wife, Barbara that allowed him to evolve and grow into his greatness.  In his book “Jack Nicklaus, Memories and Mementos from Golf’s Golden Bear” Jack devotes a chapter to his wife and her strength and guidance through his career and their life together.  They will celebrate their fiftieth wedding anniversary in July and still are an amazing couple. Here are Jack’s own words on his beloved Barbara.

My life has never been the same since the first week of my freshman at Ohio State University in September 1957, and I thank God for that every day.  That was the week I met a tall, slim, beautiful and sweet girl named Barbara Bash.  It didn’t take me long to figure out that our chance meeting, on the steps of Menden Hall on the OSU campus, was a stroke of good fortune; I called her up later that evening and asked her out for a date.

We were both seventeen at the time, just kids, and I think we clicked because we shared similar values and priorities, like the importance of family.  All these years later, with all the good things that have happened to me, I still believe that Barbara has been the most precious gift in my life.  We were married in 1960, and we have grown up together, really.  She has been my foundation, my voice of reason, my sounding board, my biggest supporter, my best friend and the love of my life.

The impact she had on me, both personally and professionally, is truly too big to fully measure or adequately explain.  Barbara had never played golf or been around the game when we met, but it wasn’t long before she could hold her own with anyone on the subject of the game.  I imagine she has walked more golf courses than anyone on tour except the players, and she may have many of them beaten, too.  In fact, you could do worse than follow her around, because she has the shortest routes and best vantage points mapped out.

While I was planning and building Muirfield Village Golf Club, I had a lot of help and support, but Barbara was unswerving in her belief in what I was trying to accomplish, and she threw herself into the project as enthusiastically as I did.  In effect, my dreams became her dreams.  The most selfless person I’ve ever known, Barbara assimilated her life to fit what I was trying to achieve in the game, even at the beginning when she didn’t understand golf and its nuances as well as she does now.  The daughter of a school teacher who arrived home after work at almost the same time every day, Barbara had to get used to the unpredictable hours that a golf professional keeps, in addition to all the other challenges that go with tour life.

Barbara’s support over the years allowed me to concentrate on the things I needed to do to be successful in a difficult line of work and I think you’ll find that many of the game’s best players enjoyed the same kind of support at home.  Without her I might have become just another golfer.  It’s not only her devotion to me and my career that has been important.  Her organizational skills and her sense of priorities always eased my mind when I was on the road; I never had to worry how the kids were doing or any other problem that might arise, because she handled everything so well.  Because of her patience, love and support, combined with her intelligence and strength of character, Barbara has been a bigger contributor to my golf career than the world will ever know.  We have some wonderful pictures of the two of us holding up trophies, and I think those are the most appropriate we have, because we’ve really achieved victories as a team.

As such, Barb also had a way of appealing to my better nature and smoothing some of my rough edges. I’ve never had much trouble saying no to people, only because if I didn’t learn to budget my time properly, I’d have never gotten anything else done. Barbara is just the opposite: she can’t say no to anyone, and she’s probably the best listener in the world, always willing to help friends or acquaintances with problems big or small.

Barbara’s immense capacity for caring and putting others ahead of herself is evidenced by the many charitable causes she supports.  For years, the Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, has been a passion of hers and more recently, she’s poured herself into the Nicklaus Children’s Health Care Foundation and The Nicklaus Children’s Hospital at St. Mary’s Medical Center in West Palm beach, Florida.

If your partner in life is also your best friend, it’s truly invaluable.  I shudder to think about where I would be today, what I might have missed, how less fulfilling my life would have been were Barbara not with me every step of the way.

For his entire life Jack lives by a simple principle: family first.  It is clear that Barbara and Jack shared that thought.


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