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John Nance Garner, who served under FDR, once said the job of vice-president is "not worth a pitcher of warm spit." This would accurately describe most vice-presidential golf games, as well. Richard Nixon once called golf "a waste of time," and, given the way he played it, he was probably right. Spiro Agnew was a rotten golfer. Gerald Ford's game did more for the helmet industry than Skylab, and George Bush, once a vice-president himself, slashes at golf balls the way Jimmy Carter slashed at attack rabbits.
But say what you will about our current Vice-President, his golf game is 100% silk. You have to hand it to J. Danforth Quayle: His golf swing is sublime, and he looks good in golf clothes besides. You could never have said that about Hubert Humphrey. Quayle was born to golf. In a suit, he looks as if he should be in golf clothes. He is, without a doubt, the best golfer this country has ever elected on a national ticket, and I should know because he punched mine last week.
Quayle scheduled a Friday round of golf at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md., and invited SI managing editor Mark Mulvoy, Congressional head pro Kent Cayce and me to play with him. O.K., O.K., we asked him to play with us and he fit us in. We weren't sure what to expect. Golf magazine had ripped the Vice-President as cold and aloof on the golf course, all work and no play. But when Quayle showed up on the first tee of the 6,878-yard Blue Course at Congressional, he was smiling and friendly as he handed out gifts—V.P. visors and V.P. golf balls.
We agreed to play a $2 Nassau, plus a dollar for greenies and birdies. It would be Quayle (now a six handicapper) and Mulvoy (a five) against Cayce (scratch) and the 12 here at the keyboard. No strokes given, none asked. The Quayle hunt was on.
Four players, two caddies, SI photographer Jacqueline Duvoisin and her assistant, and a squadron of Secret Service men—some ahead, some behind, some next to us, some in golf carts, some on foot, all in sunglasses and stone faces—attacked the Congressional course, which had just been reopened after major redesign work by Rees Jones.
One imposing agent stood 10 yards behind Quayle at all times, but the Veep didn't seem crowded by his bodyguards. "It doesn't bother me until I'm trying to be alone with my family," he said at one point. "Then it bothers me."
Quayle hit balls for only a few minutes, took a couple of putts and was ready. He stepped up in blue golf pants (a tad short), a white golf shirt with a Kapalua logo, white shoes and no hat. His blue-and-beige lightweight bag bore the vice-presidential seal, as did the head covers on his Jumbo Ozaki "J's Professional Weapon" metal woods (do American golf club makers know about this?). Quayle launched his tee shot at least 280 yards down the middle.
As for me, I stepped up with my thought for the day, one that I'd been preparing for two weeks: Don't whiff. In front of this small crowd, I hit a 280-yard smother-toe hook dead into the trees and was, quite naturally, elated.
By the turn, I was aware of three things: 1) Quayle can really strike the ball—he hit seven of the first nine greens. 2) He can be a butcher with the putter—he three-putted three of the first eight greens and missed an easy birdie chance from eight feet on the 6th hole. By all rights, his 41 should have been a 37 or 38. 3) If Quayle is cold and aloof, I'm Greta Garbo.
Quayle was so friendly that you almost forgot whom you were dealing with. For instance, when he two-putted the 9th, I gave him my best schoolboy imitation of a 75,000-seat stadium gone bonkers. He bowed at the waist, as though he had just negotiated a Middle East peace treaty. At the par-5 15th, Quayle hit a very high, very short drive—it would be his only bad drive of the day—and the poor caddie had to come back to his ball after he had trudged up a long hill in the 90� heat.