Not to be smug, but when I first heard about Monica Lewinsky, I thought, Sure, absolutely, no question. Claiming that something doesn't count because of a technicality—a Biblical technicality, no less—is precisely the type of wacky distinction our Mr. Clinton would make. I said to myself, It's just like with the mulligans.
As have many of us, I've watched the President's golf game for six years now, and while I've seen his swing improve admirably—particularly the follow-through, which is now high and strong—I've noticed that the guy has been resolutely unable to conquer his seemingly pathological addiction to mulligans. What does it say about a fellow that he just can't help but shave strokes, even when the whole world is watching?
I was thinking—and worrying—about the mulligan problem even before Ms. Lewinsky arrived onstage. Last January the President appeared on Meet the Press. The program's host, Tim Russert, steered the interview along the curvy roads of domestic policy and foreign affairs. Then he started tossing softballs. He asked questions about Martha's Vineyard, about Chelsea and, finally, about golf.
"I've gotten better since being President," Mr. Clinton said, unaware that this is a disquieting thought. "It's mostly because I've gotten to play with better golfers." I was hoping Russert would follow up with a question about the President's good friend Greg Norman—what did happen at the Shark's house the night Clinton slipped and blew out his knee?—but Russert asked about the President's handicap instead. "Twelve, 13, something like that," said Clinton.
With any mulligans? Russert asked. The President's eyes went steely, as they do. He took one of those pauses, as he does. "One, now," he finally said. I believed that like I believe pigs fly.
In trying to figure out the President's handicap for their 1996 book, Presidential Lies: The Illustrated History of White House Golf, Shepherd Campbell and Peter Landau wrote, "The answer is clouded by the matter of mulligans, which he uses freely...Clinton admits to one mulligan per round. But others put the number higher. It is said, for instance, that with friends in Little Rock the standard arrangement was one extra tee shot and two extra fairway shots per nine holes." In other words, Webster Hubbell golf.
Do I think the President is still shaving six per round? I've tried to come to a conclusion by following the reporting of CBS News's Mark Knoller. Knoller says, for instance, that during Mr. Clinton's 17-day vacation in Jackson Hole, Wyo., in 1995, the President spent 55 hours and 36 minutes playing 206 holes of golf, scoring an average of 85.1, while last summer on Martha's Vineyard he spent 48 hours, 31 minutes, playing 180 holes in an average of 82.7 strokes. From Knoller's stats I learned this about the presidential game: Mr. Clinton's foursome proceeds at a pace of five hours per round, a figure that would horrify his predecessor, George Bush.
There are some things about Clinton's game, though, that not even Knoller knows. The first time the President reported breaking 80, Knoller told SPORTS ILLUSTRATED that there was "no one there to see it" because "the press doesn't have access to most of the holes he plays." Knoller admitted that "a lot of times I have to take him at his word" and said rather sadly that Clinton's alleged 79 last summer at Martha's Vineyard "was immediately cast into doubt because we saw him take three tee shots on the 1st hole."
So, yes, there is something serious to be said about Mr. Clinton's mulligans—something about duplicity, chronic self-delusion, an incapacity for truth-telling. Also, as directly relates to the Lewinsky affair, there's something serious to be said about calling an act something other than what it truly is, so that it vanishes and doesn't count.
Mr. President, a golf shot is not a mulligan, it's a golf shot. Count it. Count 'em all. And an assignation with a young woman wherein things transpire that might upset the wife, count that too.