Golf is the favorite sport of America's presidents, and an award-winning New York Times reporter tells great stories that show why it's so much more than a game for them
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First Off the TeePresidential Hackers, Duffers, and Cheaters from Taft to Bush
By Van Natta, Don, Jr.
Perseus Books GroupCopyright © 2004 Van Natta, Don, Jr.
All right reserved.
Even as golf surged in popularity through the latter half of the twentieth century, the presidents recognized potential political peril on the golf course, and it was not necessarily lurking in the bunkers or the rough. Sometimes, the potential political costs were envisioned as the ball soared straight at the pin.
John F. Kennedy was one who cringed at his own beautiful shot. Despite a bad back, Kennedy possessed a graceful, effortless swing, which allowed him to easily rank as the best player among the fourteen Presidential golfers. But he was obsessively secretive about his love of the game, just as he was obsessively secretive about the other extracurricular activities that he participated in during his 1,000 days in the White House. And some members of the press, many of whom adored Kennedy, enabled the president to keep his passion for women-and, to a lesser extent, golf-hidden from the public.
As he ran for President in 1960, Kennedy was acutely aware that some Americans had become disenchanted with President Dwight D. Eisenhower's methodical devotion to golf. Kennedy was almost maniacal about his refusal to allow photographers to snap his picture while holding a driver or a putter.
Just a few days before the Democratic convention in which he would accept the party's nomination for President, Kennedy teed off on the par 3, 15th oceanfront hole at the breathtaking Cypress Point Course on California's Monterey peninsula. Kennedy's ball landed on the green and rolled straight toward the hole. It looked almost certain that the ball would glide into the cup.
"I was yelling, 'Go in! Go in!' " recalled Paul B. Fay, Jr., who later served as the undersecretary of the Navy in the Kennedy administration. But Jack Kennedy looked stricken with terror. The ball stopped just six inches short of the hole.
Kennedy exhaled, and told Fay: "You're yelling for that damn ball to go in the hole and I'm watching a promising political career coming to an end. If that ball had gone into that hole, in less than an hour the word would be out to the nation that another golfer was trying to get into the White House."
Excerpted from First Off the Tee by Van Natta, Don, Jr. Copyright © 2004 by Van Natta, Don, Jr.. Excerpted by permission.
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