Golf

How Watson changed Clinton's game

Image: Bill Clinton (©Denis Poroy/Getty Images)
President Clinton's game owes a big thanks to one of golf's legendary figures.
GolfWeek Jeff Rude
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LA QUINTA, Calif.

Bill Clinton, famous orator, was holding court at the Humana Challenge on Thursday. Eventually his question-answer session veered from PGA Tour talk to presidential golf.

Make that double presidential golf.

Turns out the former president played a dozen holes with current President Barack Obama the other day at Andrews Air Force Base. By Clinton’s count, Obama shot his “lowest score by far” at Andrews and was five shots ahead of Clinton after nine holes.

“But I’m older,” Clinton said. “I start slow and pick up.”

So he did. Clinton said he cut the deficit to one stroke after the first three holes on the back nine. But then Obama left on 13, citing the need to deal with the inauguration and Congressional matters.

“Hey,” Clinton told Obama, “you’re talking to somebody that’s had this job and made that excuse.”

Not that Clinton was sore over losing. Just the opposite. “We were playing partners, so I wanted him to shoot well,” he said.

Clinton was here at the Humana again because his foundation is a tournament partner and beneficiary. Long before his association here, though, he was no stranger to Tour players.

In 1993, he visited with captain Tom Watson and the victorious US Ryder Cup team at the White House and got what he called “practically the best political lesson” he ever received.

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It came from Watson. After asking to see Clinton’s grip on a driver, the Hall of Famer examined it and said the president’s hands were on the club too tightly. Then Watson drew a political analogy.

“If you’re grip is too far to the right, you’re going to get in trouble on the left,” Clinton recalls Watson saying. “But if your grip is too far to the left, you’re going to get in big trouble on the right. The trick is for your grip to be just right.”

A year later, Clinton hosted the two teams from the inaugural Presidents Cup at a White House dinner. As PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem recalled Thursday, as the evening went on then-first lady Hillary Clinton said, “Commissioner, if you want your players to play tomorrow, you need to get them on the bus because my husband is not going to bed as long as they’re here.”

Clinton, hearing the story, hardly disagreed.

“I would have stayed up all night with the golfers,” he said.

Not many, of course, are more adept at political maneuvering than Clinton. So when the proposed ban on anchoring putters was mentioned Thursday, he put a neutral grip on the topic.

He once figured he was a prime candidate to use a long putter because he has a hand tremor when tired. But he never could get a handle on how to use it.

“I don’t have an opinion,” he said. “It won’t affect me because I can’t figure out to do it anyway. For those that love it and do it, I’m sorry, but I can’t weigh in because I don’t know enough to have an informed opinion.”

Tagged: Tom Watson

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