1-On-1: Barbara Nicklaus Talks About Triumphs, Tragedy & Legacy - NBC4: Columbus, Ohio News, Weather, and Sports (WCMH-TV)

1-On-1: Barbara Nicklaus Talks About Triumphs, Tragedy & Legacy

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COLUMBUS, Ohio -

Jack Nicklaus calls his wife Barbara the greatest gift of his life.

Their partnership began their first week at The Ohio State University when Barbara spotted a sorority sister from Upper Arlington with another freshman she did not know. That freshman would come to be known as the Golden Bear.

"So I stopped to talk to her. She introduced me to Jack. She had to go to class so Jack walked me down to the bacteriology building where I was working to pay for college. He then called me up that night," she said.

SLIDESHOW: Images Of Jack & Barbara

Two years later, they were married at age 20.

Jack turned professional after graduation in 1961 and the world of golf would never be the same.

He's won 18 majors and 73 tournament titles.

He built Muirfield Village Golf Club and founded one of the most highly regarded tournament on the PGA tour.

He's arguably the most prolific golfer of any generation, but Barbara said she learned in their first year of marriage that Jack was not quite as masterful around the house when she asked him to put up cup holder.

"Three screws, 45 minutes later, not a dry stitch on him. Every cuss word in the book, and there is one screw half in. I never asked him to do another thing. So he may have done that on purpose," she said.

Five children came soon after – Jackie, Steven, Nancy, Gary and Michael.

A chronic choking episode when Nancy was 11 months old galvanized their relationship with Nationwide Children's Hospital.

"They found a blue crayon in her lungs, probably from crawling around," she said.

Though a piece of the crayon broke off and caused pneumonia, after a week in the hospital, Nancy was able to go home.

Although the children made their home busy, Barbara said Jack made family top priority.

"I mean, he flew to Tallahassee to watch his son play football between rounds of the Mexican Open. His boys thought all dads did that," she said.

Jack continued to win through the 1970s and 1980s, and Barbara was the rock at home.

The children married and had kids of their own.

Life was good, but in 2005, the same year Jack retired from the tour, tragedy came knocking.

Their son Steve and his wife Krista's 15-month-old son Jake drowned in the family hot tub while under the care of their nanny.

"For grandparents, a double whammy. You hate seeing your children in such deep sorrow and grief plus you've lost this precious little boy, it was really tough," Barbara said.

But she said Steve and Krista supported each other, stayed together and came through the loss.

They've had two daughters since losing Jake.

For Barbara and Jack, Jake's death fueled the commitment and rapid growth of their foundation for children in partnership with Miami's Children's Hospital.

A tournament named "The Jake" in their grandson's memory brings in close to $1.5 million each year for the foundation's children's center and outpatient clinic.

In the last year, the clinic obtained a special MRI machine to detect heart abnormalities in middle and high school athletes.

Two months ago, Barbara received a letter from the mother of an athlete claiming that machine saved her son's life.

As for Jack, Barbara said he's not ready to slow down just yet -- and that's OK with her as they celebrate their marriage of 53 years.

"I think all I wanted to do was make Jack proud of me. Sounds silly, but be the wind beneath his wings," Barbara said.

Just two months ago, Barbara received a letter from the mother of a high school athlete thanking her for saving her son's life after the MRI machine at the outpatient clinic diagnosed a life-threatening heart problem.

She said the letter only makes her want to work harder.

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