This edition of Golf is Not Life is an election special edition. Our regular posting has been suspended. This will be the last post before the election. The election is two days from today, on November 7. Whatever your politics, go out and vote. Then play 18 holes if you can.
This concludes our answer key to the President-Golf Quiz, with answers about Andrew Johnson, the 1968 Presidential contest, and Bill Clinton’s golf game. We also answer the bonus question: Have there been more “repeat” Presidents or “repeat” US Open champions? If you have not yet taken the quiz, you can still take it which you can take here before reading the answer key.
Each of the questions for the post deserves special note, for one reason or another, and I hope you enjoy it.
Andrew Johnson was our 17th President. He became President after President Lincoln was assassinated. He is the only President to be impeached and escaped conviction in the Senate by a single vote. He did not run for re-election.
He had the misfortune of not just following perhaps our greatest President but also of serving at a time when Republican dominance of the Congress was so complete that vetoes were essentially meaningless. He had no power to speak of.
It may be a bit unfair to implicitly suggest that he was our worst President, but this is a website and not a history book. Accordingly, we will take a little literary license, no offense to him or his descendants.
The question asks which round of golf is most like Andrew Johnson’s Presidency. By far the most popular answer was an ordinary round played by John Daly. More on that in a moment.
Greg Norman’s collapse in the last round of the 1996 Masters is an excellent candidate. Norman came in after 54 holes with a commanding six shot lead and ended up shooting 6 over par. Norman, however, lost to Nick Faldo, who put together an equally good round. The scores flipped. Faldo won at 12 under and Norman was second, five shots back, at 7 under. Norman’s day was clearly a bad one, but he still came in second to a great player and he himself remained a great player.
Palmer’s collapse over the last holes of the 1966 US Open at the Olympic Club is also a good candidate. Palmer led playing partner Billy Casper by 7 shots with nine holes to play but ended up losing that lead by the 18th hole. Palmer lost a playoff to Casper the next day and would never again come as close to winning a US Open, or a major for that matter. Seven shots in nine holes is, arguably, worse than 6 shots over 18 holes. Hence, Palmer’s probably edges out Norman’s. Again, however, Palmer lost to a great player in Casper; he remained a great player; and so, while bad, it is hard to say that it was as miserable as Johnson’s presidency – except perhaps for Palmer himself.
As noted, voters overwhelming chose an “average round with John Daly.” True, this is funny. If not a knee-slapper. We cannot, however, say that an average round by John Daly is that bad, or even bad at all. Daly is certainly a colorful player even without his Loudmouth pants, and he has had some miserable rounds.
On the other hand, he has won two majors; finished third in another (the Masters); and he finished as high as 18th in this year’s PGA Championship. Funny as it is, we cannot saddle Daly with this distinction. Other distinctions of ignominy, but not this one.
That leaves the correct answer: the final round played by Jean Van De Velde in the 1999 British Open. In fact, the last hole in regulation would probably qualify as most like the Presidency’s of at least our worst five Presidents. One has to ask seriously whether Vande Velde was attempting to obliterate the memory in the British people’s mind of the collapse of the French Army before the Germans in May 1940. Few armies have collapsed so quickly, and definitively, in such a short period of time, when ostensibly fully-equipped and not out-numbered.
Vande Velde stood on the 18th tee with a three shot lead on a par four. It is likely that he could have reached the green with three nine irons and two-putted for victory. Indeed, he would later do a commercial in Europe for a company, where he played the hole with just his putter and scored a six, rather than than the seven that resulted in his losing playoff. Moreover, Vande Velde, much like Johnson, ended the round and really was never heard of again — except in places like this, as an example for a trivia question.
The correct answer is the last round of Jean Vande Velde in the 1999 British Open.
The 1968 Presidential Contest
There have been a few very close Presidential contests in the nation’s history. Most Americans remember vividly the 2000 election and the debate over a Florida recount, where less than 1/100th of 1% separated the candidates. The model for the 2000 election was the election of 1880. After nearly five months of wrangling, party leaders struck a deal that gave Chester Arthur Alan the Presidency and Democrats …. But these are not the most notable Presidential contests. Three more rank higher as “close.” The third is the 1960 race between Jack Kennedy and Richard Nixon. About 100,000 votes separated the men, which Nixon conceded after losing Illinois narrowly. The second is the 1860 race between Abraham Lincoln, and two democrats. The race is notable because it made Lincoln the new President with the lowest percentage of the popular vote in history, about 39% — a fact lost on most Americans.
The first is the 1968 race, between Hubert Humphrey, Richard Nixon, and George Wallace. Humphrey and Nixon nearly split the popular vote at 43% each, with Wallace’s impact on the democratic party vote put the electoral college firmly in Nixon’s column. It was a battle of titans and ideologies in American politics. Humphrey stood for the liberal and labor wings of the democratic party; George Wallace stood for the ‘old South’ wing of the democratic party, where members would rather vote for a yellow dog than a Republican; and Nixon represented the traditional Republican party. The question is which golf match most resembles this race.
Bill Clinton’s Golf Game
I suppose that one really ought not have to say a lot more. Sometimes a question answers itself; sometimes we don’t even care what the answer is. This is one of those cases.
Bill Clinton’s golf game. I suppose it’s not the most memorable thing about the Clinton Presidency. It may not even be in the top five. On the other hand, this post had to be written. It especially had to be written after I saw Clinton interviewed on David Feherty’s Golf Channel show. In a flash, the entire Clinton Presidency and personality came into focus.
About halfway through the interview, Feherty asked Clinton about how he started playing golf. Bill had a wonderful story. He had lived next to a golf course when he was young; his grandfather gave him some golf clubs; and these weren’t just any golf clubs. These golf clubs had hickory shafts. These are the clubs, circa 1960, that Bill said he started with. I do admit that I was still buying into the story.
Bill did not stop. It was almost at that moment that I realized that his mind was working on two tracks at once, so smart and mendacious is he. On one level, he was making up the tall golf tale – a whopper – he wanted us to believe; on another level, he was thinking ahead to whether what he was saying was believeable.
That is when the story got good. Very good. With those hickory clubs, Clinton said, he would play alone. (Thinking three steps ahead, I would realize.) And one day, on that lonely, solitary golf course, Clinton would strike one of those hickory shafted clubs on a par three. (No one of course could be there to watch, much as but for a dress kept in sarcophagus fashion by a 21-year-old White House intern, people would still be arguing about whether Cllinton lied about Lewinsky.) On that day, he strikes the ball, it lands on the green, and rolls to the hole. (Clinton can draw out a whopper like few we know.) But, but, but, when he gets to the green, the ball is just short of the hole. (Why? Because, if Clinton had had a hole-in-one, he would have told the story he was now telling Feherty for the first time – because it never happened – many years ago – boasting of that hole-in-one as a teen or certainly during the many years as a politician trying to raise money from avid golfers. For who keeps a hole-in-one to themselves – even one that is not witnessed. I often play alone, and I often almost have a hole-in-one with the clubs I’ve had since 1977. I just keep it to myself.) In this same episode with Feherty, Clinton spent a great deal of time discussing his Irish roots. Much as the character in the movie Primary Colors made up an illiterate uncle at a primary campaign stop on illiteracy, biting his lip.
Yes, it was at that moment that I realized that in the Bill Clinton Dictionary of Golf, “Mulligan” is an Irish pub, just outside Ulster, where one drinks a few before and after a round and at the turn. (Bill gives new meaning to Mulligan in this video from Youtube.) That “out-of-bounds” means “through the green.” That “stroke and distance” is a phrase that has nothing to do with golf. That “within the leather” is never less than five feet. And that he probably learned long ago how truth and fiction, much like keeping track of one’s golf score, are only tools to get where you want in life.
I know that Bill Clinton could not write the script for The First Tee commercials that discuss how golf teaches kids good values. And you know I was still smiling after I listened to Bill tell his story about the “almost hole in one” with the “hickory-shafted clubs” his “grandfather gave him” to play on the “course next to his house.” It was quite amazing. I would never let my daughter in the same room with the man, even now.
Which gets us to the answer to this question.
Much to my surprise, the leading answer was that Clinton’s golf game is most like Obama’s Presidency. That answer narrowly edged out Nixon’s Presidency. (There was an argument for putting in Kennedy’s Presidency but I didn’t want to defend a libel suit brought by Caroline Kennedy on behalf of her father’s estate.)
Neither Hoover nor Andrew Johnson qualify as reasonable choices. Failed and mendacious are different words in the English language.
The correct answer actually was Nixon’s Presidency. I myself like Richard Nixon, much more than President Obama. And Nixon’s Presidency was largely a success. He was re-elected in a landslide; the war in Viet Nam ended; the EPA was started; missile treaties with the Soviet Union were signed; and relations with (Red) China were opened. Just to name a few things. Obama’s Presidency, fairly judged, is closer to a failed Presidency than a dishonest one, if one is going to claim it deserves a disparaging label. Nixon unfortunately did lie and in a rather public way. There is little serious doubt that that is what Bill Clinton’s golf game is about.
by M. Huckster
Special note: This post is dedicated to Alex Karras, the NFL and Big Ten lineman who passed away a few days ago. He played on a Rose Bowl winning Iowa Hawkeye team before going to the NFL to play for the Detroit Lions as a pro bowl lineman. He came from a working class family in Gary, Indiana, and will always stand for those, much like Ben Hogan, who start with nothing and rise through hard work and talent, to success with grace.