LOUISVILLE--There are former presidents of the United States who have loved golf, and then there are former presidents who really love golf--like George H.W. Bush. The 41st president is a regular at the Ryder Cup, and he popped up again Friday on the opening day of the matches.
I first came across 41 behind the eighth green during Friday afternoon's four-balls match between Phil Mickelson/Anthony Kim and Padraig Harrington/Graeme McDowell. The former president exchanged pleasantries with everyone from PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem to Mickelson to Mickelson's wife, Amy, and former Ryder Cup captain Ben Crenshaw. (Crenshaw's Texas background also led to a connection with the current president, George W. Bush, who as governor of Texas addressed the U.S. team on Saturday night of the 1999 matches, reading from Alamo commander William Barret Travis' refusal to surrender in 1836. Bush's speech was one of the inspirations later cited for the historic Sunday comeback by Crenshaw's team at Brookline.)
It was 11 years ago that I first saw 41 at the Ryder Cup, on the final day of the 1997 matches at Valderrama. Europe was closing in on a victory late Sunday, and as I watched from the left side of the 17th fairway, I sensed some extra activity behind me. When I looked over my shoulder, I found myself face to face with the former president. How many times do you get to talk to a president? I thought. Motioning toward the VIP tents high above the right side of Valderrama's 17th, I asked, "Mr. President, do you prefer being down here instead of up there?" If I had closed my eyes for the response, I could have been hearing Dana Carvey doing his famous Bush impersonation on "Saturday Night Live."
"Don't wanna be up there," the president declared. "Wanna be down here--with the people."