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Unless the President decides to draft a high-handicapper—the I-won't-look-so-bad approach—he has several other choices since these days the golfing edge in Washington clearly lies with the Democrats.
Before the announcement of Battle O-Bo, the red-letter day—well, the red-and-blue-letter day—was the annual "Ryder Cup" competition that takes place, usually in September, at Columbia Country Club in Chevy Chase, Md., a fund-raiser for the First Tee. Democratic and Republican representatives knock heads in a 27-hole format—nine holes of four-ball, nine of foursomes and nine of singles.
Boehner has been one of the mainstays of the Republican team, but the Dems drilled the GOPs in 2010 and will be strongly favored again in September. The main regret that Colorado Democrat Mark Udall had when he progressed from the House to the Senate in 2008 is that he is no longer eligible for the representatives-only Ryder Cup. "I was heartbroken when I couldn't play anymore," said Udall during a recent interview in the Hart Senate Office Building. "But I was on five Ryder Cup teams, long enough to be undefeated in singles." He smiles wryly. "Not that I'm counting, of course."
Rep. Joe Baca of California is certainly counting. Invariably described as the fiercest competitor in the House or the Senate, a multitime MVP in the annual Roll Call Congressional Baseball Game at Nationals Park and a 5'6" fireplug who can hit his driver 300 yards, Baca takes his job as captain of the Democratic team quite seriously. He is also chairman of the Congressional Golf Caucus, a group determined to publicize the benefits of golf, and, as it is doing so, play a little golf. You may rightfully get your ire up about a caucus devoted to golf. (And while we're at it, how do you feel about representatives from both sides of the aisle, between votes, beating balls into a net in the basement of the Rayburn House Office Building?) But keep in mind that Washington is also home to the Congressional Hockey Caucus, the Ski and Snowboard Caucus, the House Small Brewers Caucus and the Congressional Boating Caucus. It should also be noted that the Congressional Caucus on Distracted Driving Awareness has nothing to do with getting off the tee.
Baca didn't pick up a club until he was 38, and now, 26 years later, plays to a 4.5 and even won the El Rancho Verde club championship in 2009 back in his home district. "I was a national-class softball player, a pitcher," says Baca, whose office walls in Rayburn are filled with photos of him playing with luminaries such as Arnold Palmer, Raymond Floyd, Chi Chi Rodriguez and Tiger Woods, "and when I finally took up golf, I went after it the same aggressive way. Who knows where I'd be today if I would've had something like a First Tee program? [Baca is the last of 15 children born to a Mexican-American railroad worker.] Even now I think I can compete against the seniors."
We've heard that before. But it's safe to say that no one in Washington pursues golf with the same passion as Baca. His competitiveness makes it unlikely, however, that he would be asked to join the O-Bo foursome, even though he would love to. "I played with Bill Clinton, and right after President Obama took office, I asked him about playing," says Baca. "But he told me, 'I'm not ready for you yet.'"
Obama could tap Yarmuth, a skillful political tightrope walker who plays to a 3. Yarmuth, who before being elected to Congress in 2006 wrote antiwar, anti--George W. Bush columns for a liberal magazine he owned in Louisville, is widely known within the Kentucky Golf Association as the golfing liberal, the oddball at Valhalla, host to two major championships and the real Ryder Cup, in 2008. He is a member there and can usually be found, weather permitting, playing at least one weekend match. "They see a clinton or an obama bumper sticker in the parking lot at Valhalla," says Yarmuth, "and everyone says, 'Well, Yarmuth's here.'"
Plus, Yarmuth has played with and against Boehner in the Ryder Cup. "John and I always get along great when we play," says Yarmuth. "We talk business but not serious business." Then, too, Yarmuth's Boehner swing imitation would ease the tension in the foursome, and the Kentuckian seems more than willing to straighten out Obama's game as well. "I would love to play with the President, but it hasn't happened," says Yarmuth. "His swing could use a little work, but he's a good athlete and I bet some improvements could be made."
Another candidate for the O-Bo foursome is Udall, for it was the Colorado Democrat, after all, who suggested that Republicans and Democrats walk in and sit together at Obama's State of the Union speech in January. "I really do believe that golf has resulted in some legislative initiatives," says Udall, who, with a 2 handicap, is listed as the best golfer in Congress in the Golf Digest rankings. "It creates ties and relationships."
He is more secretive about his golf, much less an advocate than Baca, much less known as a golfer than Yarmuth. Udall is just as proud of his other athletic accomplishments—he's an avid mountaineer who three times has unsuccessfully attempted to scale Mount Everest—as he is about golf. "I play golf the way some people ski," says Udall, "and that is from the neck down. I don't get my mind in it. I picked good parents, I'm still flexible, and I grooved a swing when I was a kid that continues to serve me well. I don't really need to practice much to stay pretty sharp."