New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani is holding court in his
favorite work space, the first-floor library at Gracie Mansion,
the mayoral residence on the upper East Side of Manhattan, when
he says something that stops his aides in their tracks. Sunny
Mindel, his communications director, breaks the silence by asking
no one in particular, "Do you understand how astonishing that is,
what the mayor just said?"
What Giuliani had just said was that he had made a mistake,
something Mindel had never heard him say publicly: "I was wrong.
I'd never give it up again, and I regret having neglected it for
Giuliani, 57, wasn't referring to estranged wife Donna Hanover,
his alleged affair with another woman or an exhibit at the
Brooklyn Museum of Art that he considered sacrilegious. He was
talking about golf, which he played sporadically in his 20s but
abandoned because he thought it was a boring game and, more
important, because he wasn't good at it. When son Andrew was
born, in 1986, Rudy, then a federal prosecutor, went so far as to
tell friends that when the boy got older, Rudy would play any
sport--except golf--with the kid. Nevertheless, Fred Silverman, a
family friend and the doctor who delivered Andrew, introduced the
boy to the game when he was 10, and Andrew fell hard. "He kept
pestering me to play," says Hizzoner, "but I would have no part
Finally, in April 1998, Rudy capitulated and joined Andrew for
nine holes at Dyker Beach, a city-owned course in Brooklyn. A
month later, in New Mexico on a Republican fund-raising trip,
Giuliani had a few hours to kill before flying home. Aides
suggested a tour of Santa Fe, but Giuliani wanted to hit the
links. After a few good holes, he was hooked too. "All of a
sudden I could do it," he says. "What's funny, though, is that
usually dads get their sons into golf. It was the other way
around with Andrew and me."
Giuliani was an instant addict, and overnight Gracie Mansion got
golfy. He scoured golf shops for instructional books and videos
and swing aids. He had AstroTurf mats and hitting nets installed
in the backyard. He challenged aides to join him in putting and
chipping contests in the library and the dining room next door.
Golf talk became the first order of business at morning staff
"Look at these," says Giuliani, showing three Wally Armstrong
instructional tapes to a visitor. "This is great stuff." Giuliani
puts down the tapes and picks up the Hangar, a swing aid that's
shaped like a coat hangar. He puts the Hangar over his head and
lowers it to chest height, so that the device pushes his arms
against his sides, and grabs a wedge. "The Ben Hogan book [Five
Lessons], that was the greatest," Giuliani says while chipping
balls off the library's green carpet. "I understood everything
except pronating, but I think this"--he raises his arms to show
the Hangar--"taught me to pronate."
"Don't act like this stuff is so important," says Manny Papir,
Giuliani's deputy chief of staff. Giuliani holds up a hand in
protest. "But it is important, very important," he says.
Giuliani has taken lessons from Richard Metz, who has an indoor
range on Madison Avenue. "When I first saw him swing, I thought,
Here's a gentleman who shouldn't play golf. He didn't look
coordinated," says Metz. "I was wrong."
An 18 handicapper, Rudy tries to play once a week, usually at one
of the 13 city courses and normally with Andrew, who shoots in
the 80s and was Tiger Woods's partner in the pro-am at last
week's Buick Classic. Rudy always takes his sticks on the road,
and when at home he selects a target day for golf by studying the
weather forecast. "If it's going to rain on the weekend," says
Giuliani, "we have to move some weekday appointments to the
weekend to open up a slot for golf."
Giuliani's golf jones has been a boon for the city's hackers.
Golfers used to plead with him to fix New York's decrepit
courses, and Giuliani was appalled when he first played on the
parched fairways, rocky greens and sandless bunkers. He remedied
that by creating a city position--director of golf--and
spearheading a $12 million project to install an irrigation
system at each course. "Our courses aren't perfect yet, but we
have assets we can be proud of," says Giuliani.
The mayor enjoys golf for the same reason he used to detest it.
"Golf takes a lot of time, but that's what relaxes me," he says.
"Playing convinces you that life can be about something besides
work. I was dead wrong about this crazy game."
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN IACONO