Bush #41 Unintentional Ambassador of Golf
I have a certain affinity for the number 41. It was a good age, when I was strong enough to do what I wanted, and smart enough to do predominantly constructive things. For me, on average during my better playing days, 41 was a pretty good score per nine on a course of reasonable difficulty. In historical terms, the 41st President of the United States, despite hailing from a party other than mine, was a pretty nice guy, loved to play golf, and did all right after all in most cases. There’s never been a politician who captured 100% of the vote unless he or she ran unopposed, but a person who loves golf can get a lot closer to unanimous approval by behaving as a wonderful playing partner. President H.W. Bush was not a great golfer, and in fact from 80 yards in, not even a good one. As his son G.W. Bush reminded us in his eulogy last week at the National Cathedral, he was not entirely perfect – “his short game was lousy.” That didn’t seem to matter, as H.W. Bush, #41 and one of a long line of presidential golfers, is in the World Golf Hall of Fame. The only other president to receive such an honor was Dwight Eisenhower. He wasn’t the most terrific player, either, but Dwight and H.W. Bush were gentlemen to the core, and not by artifice.
All the electoral winning golfers were present at the Cathedral for the final public celebration of the elder Bush’s life – Obama, Clinton, Carter, G.W, and Trump. Also in attendance were golf commissioners, golf commentators, and the likes of Jack Nicklaus, Fred Couples, and Greg Norman. All of them had at one time or other visited the Bush family, played with the President, and once or twice attempted to cure that 80 yards in problem, usually to no avail. Of the presidents, Trump is beyond a doubt the best golfer. He is also more involved with the golf industry than any other, seeing his name on courses all over the world. He creates and hosts events, and from time to time shares course time with the greatest of our day, including Tiger Woods. However, even with the slightly dubious scores and the love of the industry, it is questionable as to whether he will ever reside in the World Golf Hall of Fame. Awards do not always go to the one with numerical superiority. There is still a place in the hearts of humans for the compassionate, warm, self-effacing public figure, the one who become even more endearing by playing a highly flawed game of golf, like that of Bush #41. There is always a place for the harmlessly quirky as well. A former fighter pilot and a lover of speed, 41 played golf at a pace unthinkable for anyone but a raw athlete. He once complained of his later friend, Bill Clinton, that it took the Democrat forever to play nine holes. Bush would play 18 in the same amount of time.
Listening to G.W.’s eulogy, far removed from the political stage where I could perceive him not as a public figure , but as a son losing his father, I was moved and felt for him. The need for perfection was not present, although the son noted that his father came awfully close for a human. It was humanity that was celebrated, after all, not tee to green greatness. I could relate, as my father was loved by his family in the same way and he couldn’t hit a golf ball straight if the fate of the world hung in the balance. His drives could hit any window, regardless of how far off the course, he could regularly four-putt from ten feet, and played bunker billiards like a pro, if there were pros for such a thing – and nobody cared.
H.W. Bush didn’t intend to become an ambassador for golf. He was busy with other things, but it happened anyway. Sooner or later, people will notice when someone isn’t a source of constant noise, and doesn’t use “I” as often as everyone else. The time may come again when we crave the company of such people. The golfers present at the National Cathedral may understand that better than most. Their game is built on ethics and personal generosity, even to those whose short games are “lousy” from 80 yards in, like that of H.W. Bush.