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.