At one point I became so comfortable with him that he read a putt and said, "Right lip," or something like that, and I answered, "You got it, babe," before I realized I had just given presidential protocol a free drop. But he said nothing, and Bowles said nothing. Only the press aide seemed to blanch. Is this a great country or what?
I knew for sure that it was on about the 15th when Joe watched Clinton sky-fade another shot and grumbled at him, "Doggone it, stay off them toes! You ain't no ballet dancer!" There are countries where Joe and all his descendants would be hung from their tonsils for such an utterance. In America, Joe's president merely sighed, "I know. Sorry."
Actually, Mr. President played very well. He had a 41 on the front and had every chance to break 80 for the first time when he sank a 25-footer on the par-5 10th for a birdie. But he three-putted the next two holes and never quite pardoned himself. "Those two three-putts broke my spirit," he said forlornly. In the end he shot 82, hitting eight fairways and nine greens, with 32 putts and two sandies. It was good enough to beat me by two strokes, which I feel very patriotic about. I feel it's every citizen's duty to lose to his president by two shots.
Still, despite the fact that we were four shots under our handicap, we lost the back nine and the match to Mulvoy (77) and Bowles (76). I reached to pay up, and Bowles said, "We never actually play for anything. It's just fun."
Then the real world started to close in on us. As we walked, Bowles handed Clinton a legal-sized gray folder that seemed to appear out of nowhere and looked like something that got couriered around a lot in Fail-Safe. I guessed it was a dossier with political and intelligence material on Bosnia. Bowles became quite serious, commanding Clinton's attention, while all at once a few hundred Congressional members wanted to shake his hand and the Secret Service agent, who had walked next to us all day and been so friendly, suddenly threw a Dennis Rodman elbow in my gut to get next to the President. Clinton rode back to the White House in the limo with the dossier. We rode back in a Suburban.
We said a quick goodbye 15 minutes later in the Oval Office. He seemed to have enjoyed the round a helluva lot. "You guys made my day," he said. I knew he had to make calls in exactly two minutes to French president Jacques Chirac and British prime minister John Major about Bosnia, and I could see he didn't want to have me hanging around, going, "Tell them hi for me!" He was trying to find a nice way to tell us to get lost. "I'd love to have you guys stay, but I have to, you know...," and he gestured toward the big phone on the Resolute desk.
So he put away his smile and he went back to his life, trying to decide whose lives are worth risking in a spiral staircase of a war 5,000 miles from home, and I went back to mine, trying to fix the wife's passenger-side power window. As I walked out of the White House, I looked back one last time through the thick bulletproof glass, where I saw him put the phone to his ear and his forehead in his hand, ready for a long night in the lonesomest place in the world.
Good luck, Pards.