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 25 years."
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 of it."
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 meetings.
"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.