Stephen G. Smith: In defense of Obama's golfing adventures


On my way to work on Monday -- "a day when all of nature cried fore," in the words of noted golfing writer P. G. Wodehouse -- I was startled to hear my Better Half denounce President Obama for slipping off to play a quick 18 holes the previous afternoon.

Volcanic ash had forced the cancellation of his planned flight to Poland for President Lech Kaczynski's funeral, so he did what any red-blooded guy would do, or so I reasoned.

My wife, inflamed by an item on Drudge that morning, was in not in a reasonable mood.

"I am not against a golfing president," she said. "But what he should have done is gone to church and prayed for the poor Polish president."

I immediately thought of Millicent, a character in a Wodehouse story, who ventured that "golf is only a game." As the author explained: "Women say these things without thinking. It does not mean that there is a kink in their character. They simply don't realise what they are saying."

I pointed out that I too skipped church but communed with the Almighty on the links.

She was unmollified, perhaps because she had written a book about Bill Clinton, whose "billigans" -- mulligans taken anywhere and anytime -- and CBO-style scorekeeping could transmogrify several hundred shots into a score of 82. As for me, I preferred the transparency of Richard Nixon, who after wayward shots would simply declare, "Oh, that didn't count."

My wife also faulted Obama for playing more rounds of golf (32) in his first 14 months than George W. Bush did in his two terms (24).

Even so, golf is most often associated with guys like Bush -- retrograde white males, nurtured by exclusive country clubs and imbued with Republican values. Ike is a hero to this class, a manly sort of golfer who managed to squeeze in 800 rounds during his two terms and who even broke 80 at Augusta National.

George H.W. Bush, a noted speed golfer, fit this mold. He was a better golfer than 43, but lately has lost distance and hits from the ladies tees, according to Don Van Natta, who wrote a book about golfing presidents. "Don't trip on your skirt when you hit the next one, Betsy," the younger Bush teases the old man.

My personal favorites are Presidents Gerald Ford, for his tendency to rip shots into the gallery and bean spectators, and William Howard Taft, whose girth made a mockery of the teaching maxim "Make a full turn." As Van Natta wrote: "Taft played with such passion -- and governed with so little interest -- that the game became a metaphor for his detached and disappointingly single term in office."

Only three presidents since Taft -- Hoover, Truman and Carter -- didn't play the game. I leave it to readers to draw their own metaphors.

JFK was rated the best presidential golfer, but only because of his graceful swing. As president, he mainly hit range balls on weekends to pass the time while Jackie rode to the hounds.

Oddly enough, the most avid White House golfer was Woodrow Wilson, who played twice as many rounds as Ike. Detractors might find the effort-success ratio consistent with his presidency: He rarely broke 100.

My regular foursome gives Obama a double bogey on policy but is happy to see him on the links. They point to the moral lessons offered by the royal and ancient game.

As former California Gov. George Deukmejian observed, "The difference between golf and government is that in golf you can't improve your lie."

Stephen G. Smith is editor of the Washington Examiner.

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