CAPITAL CULTURE: Obama is latest duffer in chief

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CAPITAL CULTURE: Obama is latest duffer in chief

EDITOR’S NOTE: An occasional look at the Obama effect in the
capital and beyond.

By JOSEPH WHITE=

AP Sports Writer=

WASHINGTON (AP) — When it comes to the sport of presidents,
Barack Obama is very much the everyman.

He tries, as if willing himself to believe: Yes I can. But
Obama’s skills on the basketball court are not matched on the
links – at least not yet.

“It’s a game that I keep on thinking I should be good at,” Obama
told a Russian interviewer before leaving on his most recent
foreign trip, “and somehow the ball goes this way and that way
and never goes straight.”

It was a statement as old as the sport itself. A nation of
hackers no doubt nodded in agreement, feeling the president’s
pain.

He’s had a round cut short by a thunderstorm. His motorcade got
stuck in freeway traffic on the way to another outing.
Demonstrating his game before the cameras while in Hawaii as
president-elect, he took a left-handed, shield-your-eyes swing
that left a divot not quite the size of Oahu.

Yet the frustrations haven’t kept him from doggedly pursuing
what has seemingly become the obligatory pastime of presidents.
Even though he’s a relative latecomer to the sport and is known
to prefer basketball, Obama has become a regular weekend golfer,
playing at least 10 times since April 26.

He was on the course Sunday, getting some jet-lag-beating
exercise a half-day after returning from a six-day trip to
Moscow, Italy and Ghana. He also sneaked in a round June 7 – the
same day he returned from another trip to Africa and Europe,
while wife Michelle and their daughters remained in Paris. He’s
played on Memorial Day, Father’s Day (with Vice President Joe
Biden) and the Fourth of July.

“I’ve played with him twice now,” Commerce Secretary Gary Locke
told The Associated Press. “And he is very fun-loving – and
competitive, but in a fun-loving way. Also, very supportive in
urging everybody to try to play their best, telling them to slow
down and relax. Sometimes you can get a little bit nervous
playing with the president.”

Nervous? The commerce secretary?

“If you hit a bad shot, you don’t want to hold up the group and
everything,” Locke explained. “Sometimes I’m running off to get
my ball and he’s says, ‘Na, na, na, just take your time and
relax and do your best.’ He’s very good at putting people at
ease.”

Fifteen of the last 18 presidents have been golfers, and many
have wrestled with the image of their play when the cameras are
rolling. While the public gets to see its commander in chief
portrayed as staying fit, relaxing and enjoying the outdoors,
golf also suffers from a reputation of being a sport for the
elite. President John Kennedy kept photographers away from his
golf excursions for that very reason, according to Don Van
Natta’s comprehensive 2003 book “First off the Tee: Presidential
Hackers, Duffers and Cheaters from Taft to Bush.”

Then there’s the notion held by some that the president should
not be seen doing anything trivial in a time full of troubles.
It’s not hard to find postings on social networking sites taking
potshots at his Obama’s outings.

Yet, for the new president, golf is less about image and more
about finding a cure for the self-proclaimed stir-craziness he
feels inside the protective bubble of the presidency. Random
walks with Michelle and pickup basketball games at the local
YMCA are a no-go with the Secret Service, leaving golf as the
best outlet for stretching the legs in casual clothing and
breathing fresh, non-cocooned air – even if the courses are on
restricted military installations, usually Fort Belvoir or
Andrews Air Force Base, in the Washington area.

“It is the only time that for six hours, first of all, that I’m
outside,” Obama told CBS News’ Harry Smith last month on “The
Early Show.” “And, second of all, where you almost feel normal
in the sense that you’re not in a bubble. There are a whole
bunch of Secret Service guys, but they’re sort of in the woods.
And when you’re up there in the tee box, and you’re hacking away
and hitting some terrible shot and your friends are laughing at
you, it feels as if, you know, you’re out of the container.”

To date, Obama’s playing partners have mostly been friends and
Washington insiders. One foursome included Locke, U.S. Trade
Representative Ron Kirk and presidential trip planner Marvin
Nicholson, who once caddied at the Augusta National, home of the
Masters tournament. In a later outing, presidential aide Eugene
Kang played with Locke, Nicholson and Obama.

Despite such power groupings, Locke said Obama doesn’t use the
golf course as a second office.

“We try not to talk shop,” Locke said. “It’s really very
pleasant and easygoing. He’s talking about family, just how
people are doing. We’re talking about the game itself and trying
to help each other.”

Locke said the foursomes play as teams. Nicholson, in fact, has
become Obama’s personal ringer of sorts, outdriving the field
with a 7-iron when everyone else is using a wood. The pairing of
Obama-Nicholson routed Locke-Kirk, but Obama-Nicholson vs.
Locke-Kang ended it a tie because Kang is a top-notch golfer
himself.

More star power could be on the way. Tiger Woods visited the
White House in April, and the world’s No. 1 golfer is itching to
playing a round with the duffer in chief.

“His schedule and my schedule are a little bit busy,” Woods said
last weekend at the AT&T National in suburban Washington. “His
is really busy. He’s got a lot on his plate. We’ll get it done
sometime down the road. I don’t know when, but we will
definitely do it.”


On the Net:

White House: www.whitehouse.gov

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