Although he can always claim he was trying to loosen the Republicans' death grip on the golf voting block, President Clinton had the blithe demeanor of someone playing hooky last Wednesday when he joined two of his predecessors, George Bush and Gerald Ford, for 18 holes at the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic.
With the 91-year-old Hope and defending champion Scott Hoch rounding out a lurching fivesome, Clinton took a respite from Whitewater and crime bills to follow his chronic slice around Indian Wells to a very liberally scored 93.
It was the first time a sitting president has played in the Hope, and it was an absurdist scene of fairways lined with darting-eyed Secret Service men and exhausted-looking Washington correspondents. But even the obscene six hours the round took seemed to add to Clinton's enjoyment. As he told Hope before they teed off, "I love to play. I like it for the same reason most people dislike it. I like it because it takes so long."
From the time he arrived, dressed in red shirt, blue pants, some surprisingly battered white shoes and (yes, Bubba) white socks, Clinton revealed himself to be a basic everyman of the game. Before the round he used his executive privilege to schmooze with such golf icons as Arnold Palmer, Curtis Strange and Lanny Wadkins. He was understandably nervous to be playing in front of so many people, although unlike Bush and Ford he did not hit any spectators. And when the ordeal was over, he lingered on the practice range for 40 minutes, trying out a new driver Hoch gave him, while the motorcade that would take him back to Air Force One waited.
On the whole we would have to rate the President as good for golf. Clinton wore spikeless shoes, used a caddie rather than a golf cart (and paid him $80) and was an unfailingly gracious playing partner. He rejoiced with Bush after his old rival sank a long birdie putt. And after Hoch shot a disappointing 70 that was hampered by all the heel prints his partners kept inadvertently leaving in his line, Clinton said, "That's the best tee to green I've ever seen. Scott deserved to be 10 under par, and he would have been if he hadn't been playing with three politicians who were distracting him and Bob Hope doing a soft-shoe."
On the other hand, the President took way too long over the ball, hit out of turn on several occasions and carried what looked suspiciously like 19 clubs. At the end he had the temerity to claim that his 93, which included several "LoiBips" (Loss of interest. Ball in pocket), was his highest score "in three or four years." And you thought going on 60 Minutes to discuss infidelity took guts.
Like most of us the President seems to suffer from some hubris when it comes to this humbling game. He was listed as an 11 handicap but said a 13 would have been more accurate. However, one of his Secret Service agents said a 17 would have been more accurate still, while Ray Barr, the assistant pro at Chenal Country Club in Little Rock, said that Clinton is about a 20.
Any of those numbers would make him a welcome pigeon among your average weekend foursome, regardless of political affiliation.
With only two Americans in the Top 10 in the latest Sony Ranking and all four 1994 majors going to non-U.S. players, American men no longer dominate world golf. But that doesn't mean Americans aren't cleaning up around the globe.
Last week, at the Australian Masters in Melbourne, Tom Watson tied for second, one stroke behind Peter Senior, for his best finish of the year. He just missed a 24-footer on the last hole that would have forced a playoff.
In Africa, U.S. players Ron Whittaker, Brad Ott and Scott Dunlap have all won events on the Sunshine Tour. A month ago Fred Couples kicked off the '95 PGA European Tour with back-to-back victories in the Dubai Desert Classic in the United Arab Emirates and in the Johnnie Walker Classic in Manila. And this year on the Asian Tour, which has had events in Thailand and Malaysia, Matt Gogel took the winner's trophy at the qualifying school, while the first two tournament victors have been America's Todd Hamilton and Brandt Jobe.
By Invitation Only
As the force behind the creation of the Senior PGA Tour and the Tournament Players Club network, Deane Beman was proud to compete in last weekend's GTE Suncoast Classic at the TPC of Tampa Bay at Cheval. The former PGA Tour commissioner also justified his sponsor's exemption by finishing 29th.
Beman, 56, plans to play in 20 Senior tour events this year, despite having failed to gain his card at the senior qualifying tournament last fall. Some players question whether that's fair, claiming he's getting special treatment because of his former job. Others feel that Beman is entitled, for the very same reason. "When I took the commissioner's job in 1974, I had won a tournament that previous year," Beman pointed out last Friday after his opening 72. "I had a full two-year exemption when I stopped playing. I was eligible for every tournament, including the Masters and the U.S. Open. I was 43rd on the alltime money list when I left the Tour.
"Tournament sponsors have four exemptions. They can invite anybody they want to. If there are other people who are more worthy, who can help their tournament more, then let them invite them."
As a two-time U.S. Amateur champion and winner of four Tour events, Beman had a reputation for being a tough player who relied on his short game, fairway woods and dogged determination. He has the right type of game for the courses the seniors play, but he has 20 years of rust working against him.
So far this season Beman has had a tough time. He had to withdraw from the season-opening Royal Caribbean Classic due to a rib cage injury. Two weeks ago at the IntelliNet Challenge he was three under after 12 holes when the final round was washed out, leaving him with his 36-hole score of 75-78-153, for 70th place out of 78 golfers. He has been using an old set of Ben Hogan forged blades. Eventually he may break down and change to a set of perimeter-weighted game-improvement clubs. "I know the new technology is good, but until I'm playing better and swinging better, I want to know when I mishit it," he says.
Beman was one of the participants in last Tuesday's Merrill Lynch Shoot-Out—he was eliminated on the 1st hole—but no cracks were made on the 1st tee about splitting the purse. Last year Beman penalized several players, some as much as $10,000, for agreeing in advance to split the prize money in the weekly shoot-outs. "Nobody brought it up," Beman said. "I think they all want to forget about it." ...The golf carts used by tour caddies in Tampa were moving billboards for H‚Äö√†√∂¬¨√üagen-Dazs ice cream. And Chevron had purchased bumper-sticker space.... Rookie Robert Landers shot his first sub-par round, a 69, in senior competition on Friday, and he seems to be getting more comfortable in his new environment. "I see they've already corrupted him," noted Jim Colbert. "He's using a Rocky Thompson driver, some Ping irons, and is wearing a logo on his shirt. Next thing you know they'll have him in golf shoes instead of tennis shoes."
The Prez played with two predecessors, two putters and too few strokes.
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With no tour card, Beman is still playing a 20-event schedule, which rankles some of his peers.