You are looking at a man whose Bubble Shaft was nearly wrestled to the ground by Secret Service agents. You are looking at a man who called the most powerful man on the planet "babe." You are looking at a man who has survived Bubba golf.
The idea was to tee it up with President Bill Clinton, golfing conundrum—an Oxford man with a publinx soul, a guy who looks as if he might putt with his glove on, swear over a game of Bingo Bango Bongo and pull a cold beer out of his bag at the 5th hole. I wanted to know if he really did carry 19 clubs in his bag, take more mulligans than the entire field of the Killarney Elks Invitational and would rather buy a $398 Monster Martha driver than spend $35 on a half-hour lesson from his local professional. In other words, I wanted to find out if he was like me.
So, after almost a year of asking, waiting, reasking, waiting, begging, waiting, scheduling and hoping, I reserved a room at a Washington-area hotel for Friday night, May 26, because the White House had said that possibly, perhaps, barring unforeseen schedule changes, I would play golf with the President the next morning. When I checked in that night, my little red light was on. Of all the little red lights I've had in all the hotels in all the world, the greatest of all was this one.
Be at the White House at 8 a.m.
White House deputy chief of staff Erskine Bowles and SPORTS ILLUSTRATED managing editor Mark Mulvoy would be in the foursome with us. Taking the motorcade there. To Congressional Country Club. Comped. Is that any good?
Golf is like bicycle shorts. It reveals a lot about people. And presidents. What would it reveal about Clinton?
Rain wasn't going to kill the day. Clinton has been known to play in high wind, rain and sleet. Once he supposedly finished 18 with ice on his irons. "He'll drag me out for nine, 10, 11 holes in the late afternoon," Bowles told me before the round, "make us play until it's dark. Until after it's dark. Then we go back to work." Clinton started playing golf at age 12 and caddied as a teenager in Hot Springs, Ark. He entered the White House as a 16 handicap, but I'd heard he was down to a 13 now, which would put him in a league with our finest golfing president, John Kennedy. I'd also heard that the 13 was phonier than Cheez Whiz and that he would probably go out and shoot himself a radio station—a Magic 102 or a Zoo 105.
I wanted to find out all of this for myself, as well as, I admit, tear off a swatch of the presidency. Ever since the second grade, I've loved the presidency. Didn't matter who was in office, it was royalty to me. I wanted to touch the spike marks Ike left in the Oval Office floor. I wanted to sit in front of FDR's fireplace in a cardigan. I wanted to rub up against Gerald Ford's toaster.
After ironing my shirt three times and my pants twice, laying my socks in my shoes two different ways, not sleeping, putting in the room at 3 a.m., ordering room service at 6:01 and then actually ironing my sweater, I finally arrived at the White House at quarter to eight. After the Secret Service had checked under our rental car with mirrors and in the trunk and in the golf bags, and after Mulvoy and I had each shown our driver's licenses three times, we were finally allowed up the South Lawn drive. A gaggle of agents waited for us.
"You didn't have to go to all that trouble," I said, trying to break the tension. "We could've just hopped the fence like everybody else." Exactly nobody laughed.