George W. Bush - the golfing President

Inspiration speech fired the US Ryder Cup team

Bob Warters's picture
Mon, 11 Mar 2002

With the eyes of the world on US President George W. Bush’s next move in the escalating war against terrorism, it would be inappropriate for him to be seen pursueing his favourite golfing pastime.

The six-month anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon and the crises in the Middle East and Afghanistan keep him well occupied, but he admits that when he does get a break golf is his favourite relaxation.

Bush Snr and Jnr out on the course.
A close friend of Ryder Cup captain Ben Crenshaw, it was Bush who was chiefly responsible for rallying the US team on the final day of the last clash with the Europeans at Brookline in 1999.

Originally it was thought his dad, George Senior, the former President, was called in to give the team a pep talk when they trailed 6-2 to Mark James’ battlers on the final day.

But it has since emerged that ‘Dubya’ answered Crenshaw’s call to give an ‘into battle speech’, though the then governor of Texas and mere presidential candidate was doubtful what advice a 15-handicap hacker could gives some of the world’s best golfers in a tight spot.

Summoned to US team headquarters on the sixth floor of the Four Seasons Hotel, he settled for a stirring reading of the letter Colonel William Barret Travis wrote from the Alamo.

The letter included the phrase: "I have sustained a continual bombardment and cannonade for 24 hours and have not lost a man. The enemy has demanded a surrender at discretion . . . I have answered the demand with a cannon shot and our flag still waves proudly from the walls. I shall never surrender or retreat. . . Victory or death."

Father and son play often.
As he left the room and with Tiger Woods, David Duval and Tom Lehman in a state of patriotic fever, Bush added his own postscript.

"America is pulling for you," he told them. "You can win tomorrow - and you're gonna win tomorrow."

On Sunday, September 26, 1999, the Americans rallied to defeat the Europe by a single point as University of Texas graduate Justin Leonard clinched the decisive half point with that controversial 45-foot putt on the 17th hole of his match against Jose Maria Olazabal.

Watching from course-side Bush called it "the greatest event I've ever seen in any sport."

Acclaimed as one of the most influential figures in American golf, Bush was described by Crenshaw as an inspiration.

"The governor's speech," he said with typical Texan understatement, "hit 'em pretty good."

Bush's performance also gave him a couple of strokes on his political rival Al Gore, too. Gore was – and still is - a non-golfer.

Bush hails from a family with a rich history of contributions to American golf, a family that is as passionate about the royal and ancient game as they are about politics. Indeed father and son are highly competitive opponents on the golf course.

George Herbert Walker, was the former president's grandfather and served as president of the United States Golf Association in 1920, and later lent his name to the Walker Cup, the biennial amateur contest between the US and Great Britain& Ireland.

Bush Sr.’s father Prescott Bush, was a tall, strapping, two-handicapper who won the Cape Arundel club championship eight times near Kennebunkport, Maine and his course record 66 stood for decades.

It was he, as secretary and president of the USGA, who granted Bobby Jones a favourable ruling on the 262-yard par-3 17th hole at Interlachen during the final round of the 1930 US Open.

Jones pushed his tee shot into a dried-up water hole which Bush ruled as a lateral water-hazard and while others were expecting Jones to return to the tee, the official allowed him to take a penalty drop in the fairway from which he went on to win the first of three majors that year.

George W. Bush, even claims to have inherited a penchant for fast play from Prescott Bush.

"I remember my grandfather once pulled me aside when I was a young man and said, 'It doesn't look like you're going to be that good a golfer, so make sure you play fast.’ That was probably just as well because patience has not always been my long suit."

Having fun on the green.
Bush plays to a legitimate 15 handicap, especially impressive considering his presidential duties limit him to less than a dozen rounds a year. He has also been a useful football, basketball and baseball player (he was part-owner of Texas Rangers baseball team) and since he quit drinking at 45, has competed in several running events, including a marathon

Bush received his only formal golf instruction as a teenager shortly after his family moved to Houston.

"My mother used to drop me off at Houston Country Club to take lessons. The great head pro Dick Forester was the man responsible for honing my backswing," he recalls. He later played often enough at Midland Country Club to have the members name their worst dressed golfer award after him in 1981.

Charging toward a confrontation with terrorism on several fronts, it’s no surprise his golf game is in something of a rut. His best round was at Cape Arundel (a 77) which he shot a few summers ago while watching playing partner Fred Couples card a course-record 62. But he has not cracked 80 recently.

"The president’s got a good swing, and he hits his drives long and straight," says Crenshaw, who has played with Bush several times in Austin.

"His one major weakness is his short game. If he had a better short game, he could probably break 80 consistently. I've told him I really want to work with him on his chipping and his pitch shots."

Best golfer in the family is the president’s younger brother Jeb, the governor of Florida, a high-single-figure player who recommitted himself to playing several times a week despite the demands of his job. Brother Neil plays only occasionally, while brother Marvin quit the game a few years ago.

Meanwhile, Bush Sr bemoans that his handicap has climbed from 18 to ‘about 22’ but is determined that neither age nor a chronic, case of the putting yips will put him on the sidelines.

George W Bush is a ‘red-ass in a hurry,’ as the sportswriters say in Texas, meaning he has a whole lot of energy and aggression to burn off or he's likely to blow. He has always been that way.

His mother Barbara, recalls that when she took her 13-year-old son and his best friend to play golf at her club, George would start cursing if he didn't tee off well. Several expletives later he was generally sent to wait in the car!

Once, after his mother banished him from the golf course she declared: "That boy is going to have optical rectosis - a shitty outlook on life."

He has turned out well enough but with a tough competitive streak. He won’t be beaten.

They say golf reflects life and George W. Bush is a prime example.

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