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Fore Left

President Obama should ignore the fun police and keep his eye on the ball

Golf is under assault. It's no surprise the assailants are liberals, but this time their attack is directed at one of their own: President Barack Obama. In an essay in the Dec. 30 issue of The New Republic, senior editor Michelle Cottle declares, "With the coming new year, POTUS has a prime opportunity to regroup, reload and revamp his image. He could start by ditching golf." Cottle notes that "this president hit the links more frequently in his first nine months than the reared-on-golf George W. [Bush] did in his first two years."

Cottle unlimbers the usual golf-as-bogeyman artillery: Golf is "a leisure activity that screams stodgy, hyperconventional Old Guard"; "golf is the stuff of corporate deal-cutting, congressional junkets and country-club exclusivity"; and "golf is a dying game—on the skids for nearly a decade.... Does President Obama really want to be associated with a game so antithetical to modern life?"

The real subtext? Obama shouldn't be spending time on the greensward when there is so much yet to be accomplished at the White House. Coincidentally (or not) on Dec. 30, Maureen Dowd's op-ed column in The New York Times carried the following subhead: GET OFF THE GOLF COURSE AND FIX OUR AIRPORTS! (Even though the piece never even mentions golf!)

This Puritan strain has always existed in our society; those disappointed in Obama can't merely criticize his performance, they also have to blame him for having fun. Does more play and less time spent at his desk really hamper his performance? Heck, it might improve it by allowing his brain to solve bigger problems while it's also pondering whether to pull a seven- or an eight-iron. Of course, Obama could stay chained to his desk the way Lyndon Johnson and Jimmy Carter did. That approach sure worked out well.

Besides, instead of reflexively trotting out the tired arguments that golf is a sport of the haves (oooh: Republicans!), Cottle might have done a little research. Rounds played were actually the same in 2009 as they were in 2008, despite a bad economy. And while 2.1 million American golfers belong to country clubs, the remainder of the 4.6 million avid players (25 or more rounds a year) do not. In the U.S. golf is something of a mini--stimulus package: Prerecession estimates pegged it as a $76 billion industry that employs two million people.

So, as the anniversary of your inauguration dawns—marking a year filled, like a golf round, with scrambling pars and missed shots—damn the wonks and let the big dog eat, Mr. President.

GOLF.COM • SIGOLFNATION.COM

GOLF PLUS will next appear as a supplement to the Feb. 8 SPORTS ILLUSTRATED.

SHORT GAME

Sexy Seniors

Has it really been 18 years since Fred Couples defied gravity and Augusta's 12th hole to win the Masters? Couples and Corey Pavin will make their Champions tour debuts next week at the season-opening Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai Golf Course in Hawaii.... The 28 players at the SBS Championship matches the smallest field at the season-opening event since 1999. Twenty of those 28 planned to play in this week's Sony Open.... Roberto de Vicenzo showed up at the final round of the Copas de las Americas, a semiannual mixed-team amateur event that was played this year at Olivos Golf Club in De Vicenzo's home country of Argentina. The 1968 Masters runner-up handed out trophies and posed for pictures, which turned out to be a cozy assignment since De Vicenzo's compatriots finished second overall to the U.S. team of Jessica Korda, Nolan Smith, Jennifer Song and Peter Uhlein, while the Argentine men, Emiliano Grillo and Tomas Cocha, won the men's title.... It's good to see that even in the wake of the Tiger Woods scandal, President Obama doesn't consider golf toxic. Besides his recent play in Hawaii, the President was scheduled to meet with captain Beth Daniel and the U.S. Solheim Cup team at the White House on Tuesday.... Yogi Berra (above), who has played in the Bob Hope Classic (Jan. 20--24) multiple times and this year will serve as a special ambassador at the event, was asked the key to winning a celebrity pro-am. Said Berra, "You've got to have a hot pro."

GOLF MAGAZINE TOP 100 TEACHERS POLL

WHEN WILL TIGER WOODS RETURN TO THE PGA TOUR?

No later than the Masters 85%

By the end of this year 12%

Next year 3%

"Kobe was forgiven when the Lakers won, and Tiger will be forgiven when he wins the Masters."

—Mike Adams, Hamilton Farm Golf Club

PHOTO

HUGH GENTRY/REUTERS (OBAMA)

PLAYER Despite his critics, Obama teed it up in Hawaii on Dec. 31.

PHOTO

CORBIS (BERRA)

PHOTO

SIMON BRUTY (WOODS)