6 compelling golf anecdotes from *I Call Him ‘Mr. President’: Stories of Golf, Fishing and Life with My Friend*
A four- or eight-year term as the President of the United States can be summed up by some in a few paragraphs, but that doesn’t give much insight into the type of person the individual actually was, how he treated others and how he went about life outside the Oval Office.
In a new book coming next month titled I Call Him “Mr. President”: Stories of Golf, Fishing and Life with My Friend, Ken Raynor, head professional at Cape Arundel Golf Club in Kennebunkport, Maine for 38 years, tells stories of his personal relationship with President George H.W. Bush. The two men are believed to have played more golf together than any other president and PGA professional. Below are some of the best anecdotes that give a little more insight into the character of No. 41:
Former Vice President Dan Quayle talks about President Bush’s love for playing golf quickly. No practice swings, no mulligans. The duo once played a round in two hours and 45 minutes, and the VP asked the president what everyone shot.
The president answered, “We don’t care what anybody shoots; it’s just about how long it takes to play.” For him, as long as it takes under three hours, it’s like breaking 80!
After they had completed their time in office, President Bush was invited to play in the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, and he asked Vice President Quayle if they should go.
*I told him, “It’s a wonderful tournament. You’re going to see a lot of your friends. I think that we should go, but I am warning you, it’s a six-hour round of golf.”
“For thirty-six holes?” he asked. “I thought it was only eighteen each day?”
“Six hours for eighteen holes,” I explained. We went and played in the Pebble Beach tournament anyway.*
Raynor once brought his friend Ted to play with the president. Raynor knew better than anyone how playing golf with the POTUS is a very nerve-wracking experience. Luckily for Ted, President Bush made it very comforting for everyone he played with, even instituting a new golf rule, 35-4, called the “no laughing rule,” in case anyone hit a comical shot. This made the entire group laugh.
The self-deprecating humor broke the ice a little and lowered expectations for President Bush’s own pending drive, which I suspect he didn’t mind either. Put yourself in his shoes: Every time he went out for a casual game of golf, the eyes and lenses of the media, Secret Service agents, aides, playing partners, his golf professional and anyone who gathered around the first tee were upon him. The last thing they want to see the leader of the free world do is top a shot into the weeds or, God forbid, whiff.
After delivering his joke, President Bush hit a beauty right up the fairway.
“Take a bite out of that one!” the president shouted. “Mr. Smooth is back!” People clapped and laughed.
The 1999 Ryder Cup was held nearby at Brookline Country Club, and Raynor and the president would be in attendance. After visiting the New England PGA Hospitality Tent while walking to the 12th hole, one of the Secret Service aides came over to President Bush with a request.
“Excuse me, sir. Michael Jordan is in the crowd, and he’d like to come say hello.”
The former first lady overheard the request and perked up, mentioning that the six-time NBA champion was a friend of hers. She escorted Jordan over for the visit, and he was very cordial. He sat with the president and Mrs. Bush, chatting and watching golf.
Former PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem tells a story of a night he spent at the Bush home in Kennebunkport. He mentioned to the president he wouldn’t be able to see him the next morning as they went to bed, since he had a commitment the following morning. President Bush asked him to at least have a cup of coffee in the morning, but Finchem was leaving quite early.
“That’s fine,” President Bush insisted. “Come down early, and we’ll have a cup of coffee.”
Finchem got up extra early and crossed paths with one of the members of the house staff, who gave him a cup of coffee. He wondered where the president was, then the staff member said to go into the bedroom. With some hesitation, Finchem went in and found George and Barbara sitting up in bed watching the morning news.
“C’mon and sit down Tim,” said President Bush, gesturing to a chair. As, usual, they made me feel right at home.”
Boston Red Sox pitchers Roger Clemens, Frank Viola and second baseman Matt Young were invited to Kennebunkport to play golf. The president was looking forward to the round, but the weather took a turn for the worse and meteorologists predicted a hurricane.
At 4:30 a.m., Raynor’s phone rang. The president was calling, hoping they still had a chance to play. Moments before the call, Raynor had seen on the news that Mikhail Gorbachev, the Soviet leader, was missing. He’d suspected the unfolding of this event had the president up this early, yet he was still wondering whether his golf game with Clemens was on, moments before a hurricane strike.
Greg Norman tells a story of when President Bill Clinton was in Australia and requested to play golf with the Shark. Norman, not a Democrat, was hesitant. He decided to reach out to his good friend, President Bush, to seek advice on how to handle the situation. Norman mentioned to President Bush how he was not a fan, and didn’t want to do it.
“Greg,” the president answered, “my advice to you is to respect the position of the President of the United States—no matter who it is. I highly suggest you play golf with him.”
“Yes sir,” Norman responded.
Norman did play with President Clinton, and the two struck up a wonderful friendship.
“The lesson I learned from President George H.W. Bush that I still carry with me to this day, is to never pre-judge anyone.”