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Gary Younge
Why presidents never have to say double-bogey

A recently released book by a New York Times investigative reporter, Don Van Natta, examines the golfing habits of the American presidents and discovers that in many cases they can act as an illuminating motif for their presidential style.

Only Herbert Hoover, Harry Truman and Jimmy Carter did not play, leaving the others all the way back to William Taft (the first and the fattest of them all) who refused to lay down his clubs to meet a Chilean diplomat.

"I'll be damned if I will give up my golf game to see this fellow," he said.

In First Off the Tee, Van Natta writes of his astonishment, when playing with Mr Clinton, at the president's penchant for taking "mulligans" - a second swipe at a poorly executed first shot - and then claiming a far lower score as though his mistakes had never happened.

"Apparently, being president means never having to say double-bogey," he writes.

The Bushes, meanwhile, do not seem to care too much about the execution so long as it is swift. "The Bush brand of game is speed golf, or aerobic golf, or power golf," Van Natta reports.

"We're not good," the elder Bush said, "but we're fast."

Whether it's war in the Gulf or golf on the green, the son, it seems, follows closely in the footsteps of his father.

"We like to bang away. My father's measure of success is not how low you score, but how fast you play. His goal is to always finish 18 holes in less than three hours."

While Mr Kennedy was the best of all the presidents at the game, he was less keen to be seen on the links than most, fearing it would lend the wrong impression. This left him plenty of time for other pursuits, hence Theodore Sorensen's comment that: "This administration is going to do for sex what the previous one did for golf."

The theme of the book is light -hearted, but to some at least the issues it raises are serious. When Van Natta first wrote of Mr Clinton's style in 1999 one of the president's closest friends called him.

"The president is furious with you," said Terry McAuliffe. "Your piece was horrible. He is so mad at you. He will never forgive you."

When Van Natta pointed out that he had written far more damning things about Mr Clinton in the White House, Mr McAuliffe replied: "Those things bothered him, too, but this is different! You called him a cheater! The president takes his golf game ... very seriously."

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