After President Barack Obama and former President Bill Clinton played golf together on Saturday, the topic of the game as a presidential attribute is making the rounds – and it turns out that GOP candidate Donald Trump's golfing prowess may giving him a political edge.
Out the past 18 presidents, 15 have been duffers. But only a few of those have managed to break 100 in a game where shooting in the 80s is considered respectable.
“Presidents aren’t usually that good as golfers. I’d say maybe [Dwight D.] Eisenhower was a good golfer,” says Ret. Major Harry Linsenbigler, who runs the pro shop at the Fort Benning Golf Course in Georgia and has golfed with top brass. “And maybe [Lyndon B.] Johnson, I knew a guy once got hit by Johnson’s ball. Most presidents are double bogey golfers.”
How good a golfer is Obama?
According to Golf Digest which published a ranking of presidential golfers in 2009 – compiled with the help of Don Van Natta, an ESPN investigative reporter and author of "First Off the Tee: Presidential Hackers, Duffers and Cheaters from Taft to Bush" – John F. Kennedy tops the list with Dwight D. Eisenhower (who had a green outside the Oval Office) running a close second. Mr. Clinton and Mr. Obama (a lefty), ranked seventh and eighth, just ahead of Ronald Reagan.
No. 7 doesn't sound bad, but this is not exactly an elite group of golfers. “The president’s on vacation for the next 16 days I think and he’ll probably be out there every day and not break a hundred half the time," says Mr. Linsenbigler.
Some, such as Michael Jordan, have publicly bemoaned Obama’s golf game. But Florida resident, Ed Schmidt Jr., a.k.a., The Golf Travel Guru, says in a phone interview: “Regardless of what people think of Mr. Obama politically, him being out there playing on a regular basis does good things for golf.”
“For a couple of years now I’ve just scoured everything to see how Obama plays. There was one quote that said he shot in the mid-90s so now, did he take any Mulligans? Did he take any do-overs? I’ve been in this business over 30 years and seeing his swing I’d say he shoots 95 to 105 would be my guess.”
Still, Obama spends considerable free time on the links. And Mr. Van Natta says, "Obama has taken a lot of criticism but he's really improved since becoming president. He was terrible before he as elected, but he's gotten much better."
Is Obama as good a golfer as Mr. Trump?
Trump claims to have shot a 66, which would make him as good any professional golfer.
Trump is an avid golfer, and owns at least 16 golf courses. However, if elected president, Trump would likely break the presidential golfing mold because he reportedly prefers “hole-by-hole” match play to the 18-hole stroke-play traditional to American golf score cards.
“Match play is great if you don’t have the time for 18-holes,” says Mr. Schmidt. “That’s how they play in Scotland. In match play, you can shoot one hole and the guy that makes the hole wins it all. Done. Americans tend to get obsessed with scorecards.”
“Mr. Trump not only owns some high-profile courses, plus he loves the game and it shows,” Schmidt says. “They’re both ends of the [political] spectrum out there playing golf all the time.”
For presidents and captains of industry, golf carries the cache of being an open-air meeting room with bragging rights as well as being a sport. But in this case, what does presidential golfing tell us about the next occupant of the White House?
"In the past 40 years, every time a golfer has gone up against a non-golfer for president the golfer has won," says Mr. Van Natta. "The only exception was Jimmy Carter. In every other case, it holds true that the golfer wins [the election]."
In the 2016 presidential race so far, the only candidate who is considered a "golfer" is Donald Trump.