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May 07, 2012
Sunday at TPC Sawgrass is Mother's Day, and no woman has balanced the demands of the game and parenthood with more grace than Barbara Nicklaus
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May 07, 2012

The First Lady Of Golf

Sunday at TPC Sawgrass is Mother's Day, and no woman has balanced the demands of the game and parenthood with more grace than Barbara Nicklaus

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Barbara Nicklaus looks across the kitchen at the man she fell in love with more than five decades ago. He is standing by the island in the middle of the room, stretching lightly before his tennis match. Outside the windows, beyond the back porch, Lake Worth is glistening in the morning sun.

The Nicklauses have lived at this North Palm Beach, Fla., address since 1970, and the house is a comfortable extension of their lives. A large flat-screen television is tuned to Golf Channel. The sound system is playing Frank Sinatra. The family dog, Bunker, a chocolate labradoodle, is everywhere.

This is a big day in the Nicklaus household. The final round of the Honda Classic, which benefits several Nicklaus charities, is being played up the road at PGA National; Ohio State, the couple's alma mater, is facing Michigan State with the Big Ten basketball championship on the line. And, of course, there's Jack's tennis game.

Barbara watches as her husband of 52 years widens his stance, bends at the knees and then rises again. He looks focused, even antsy. Jack loves tennis, and he plays to win. Same as always.

The back door swings open, and two of Jack's tennis pals walk in. A fierce doubles match will soon begin. Bunker barks. Jack's face relaxes. Barbara breaks into a knowing smile.

"We call this Golden Bear day camp," she says.

On how many mornings has Barbara Nicklaus done exactly this—sent Jack into his competitive day? How many rounds of golf has she seen, miles has she walked, diapers has she changed? History says that Jack won his first major at the 1962 U.S. Open at Oakmont, but many argue it was the day he married Barbara Bash, the person who would soften and inspire him at the same time.

"She always allowed my dad not to worry about things at home, whether it relates to his golf or his business," says oldest son Jackie. "She allows very little time for herself, but she's always trying to help people. At high school basketball games, she was the one at the table keeping score. With 22 grandkids, she seems to be at every event. She has been the glue to our family."

Early on Barbara understood what kind of Tour wife she would be. In 1962, the year after Jackie was born, she remembers sitting on the patio at Augusta National with several wives who were bemoaning the rigors of travel with young children. Major championships were far from their minds.

"We wanted to get home," Barbara says. "All of a sudden this finger is in my face, and this woman says, 'Listen, little girl, you had Jack long before you had that baby and you hope to have Jack long after that baby's gone. Now you go out and be a wife.' It was Elita Mangrum, Lloyd's wife. When I saw her 10 years later, I said, 'You have no idea what you've done for my marriage.'"

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