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June 13, 2011
War, recession, partisanship and a lobbyist scandal turned the sport into a four-letter word in the nation's capital, but a handful of congressional golf nuts and the looming Obama-Boehner match could be game-changers
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June 13, 2011

The Politics Of Golf

War, recession, partisanship and a lobbyist scandal turned the sport into a four-letter word in the nation's capital, but a handful of congressional golf nuts and the looming Obama-Boehner match could be game-changers

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John Yarmuth, a Democratic congressman from Kentucky and a low-handicap liberal who has passed along golf tips on The Colbert Report, springs to his feet, grips an imaginary club and hunches over in a scrunched-up stance, wrists cocked far forward. "Frankly, I don't know how he hits it at all," says Yarmuth, sitting back down on the couch in his office in the Cannon House Office Building in Washington, D.C.

"He" is John Boehner, the Ohio Republican who is also Speaker of the House and Yarmuth's antipole on most political issues. But Yarmuth wants to make it clear that this is not political smackdown. "John gets it around really, really well," says Yarmuth, "and he's a competitor."

Still, stance-imitation borders on insult, and one might hope that Boehner, a skilled verbal counterpuncher, would offer a snappy comeback, perhaps a jab at the Democrat's spendthrift attitude on $10 Nassaus. But Boehner declined an interview request to discuss his golf game, or even golf in general, something that now seems to be set-in-stone policy.

Several of Washington's other power brokers also refused to speak, including the Power-Broker-in-Chief, who, despite being an ardent proselytizer of pickup hoops, is reticent to admit that from time to time he also pulls out his sticks. Representatives for Obama also kindly turned down an SIGOLF+ request to shoot the President's bag for the feature that appears on page 72 in this issue.

Yes, over the past year both men have kept their respective golfing joneses under wraps (like their cigarette smoking) in keeping with a hush-hush atmosphere that surrounds the golf scene in Washington. That represents a sea change from the days when Dwight (I'll Be Back After 18) Eisenhower seemed to worry as much about his incurable slice as he did about the Soviet Union's incursions into Eastern Europe.

But all that is about to change.

After much hemming and hawing about getting together on the links, Obama has finally invited Boehner to tee it up, and the Speaker quickly accepted. They could've picked a less busy date on the golf calendar—Saturday, June 18, which corresponds with Moving Day at the U.S. Open at Congressional—but, hey, when you're two of the most powerful men in the free world, you play when you want, right? And, one supposes, where you want, though at press time there had been no site selected for Battle O-Bo.

Wherever it happens, the match is going to have an unconventional look since the President is a straight southpaw and Boehner is a righthanded swinger who putts from the left side. Pundits are no doubt already in search of ways to conflate their playing with their politics. Obama started his ball right, but, sure enough, back it came to the left. Boehner's lefty putting routine suggests room for compromise. We must assume that negotiations for strokes have already started. Boehner is listed as a 7.9 and Obama a 17 in Golf Digest's annual recap of Washington's power players, which means Obama should get nine shots. But will he take them knowing he'll have to explain to Fox News why he's on the dole?

The mind boggles, too, at the fervid behind-the-scenes negotiations that must be going on to round out that foursome. Well-known pros are out for that weekend, but Battle O-Bo could be an old-timers deal—you got Jack, I'll take Arnie. Or maybe a reach-out for the women's vote—you got Lorena, I'll take Annika. But to make it palatable for an American public facing 9.1% unemployment, the best guess is that Battle O-Bo will have to come across as a work day. Automatic two-down presses and fix health care on the back nine.

The best guess is that the foursome will be politically balanced. Boehner has at his disposal two low-handicap conservative Republicans in Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee (2.1) and Rep. Trey Gowdy of South Carolina (4). Two other Southern senators are also fine players—Georgia's Saxby Chambliss and North Carolina's Richard Burr, 7.4 and 7.5, respectively. The most obvious choice for Obama is his Vice President, since Joe Biden is a fine player with a handicap last listed at 6.3. The Boehner camp may object, however, on the grounds that Biden talks so much it would be like having two teammates.

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