WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Maybe golf really does have the power to bring people together. For proof, all you need is a quick trip to the White House.
All 12 members of the victorious 2013 U.S. Presidents Cup team made the trip to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue Tuesday evening for a ceremony in the East Wing. President Obama took the stage and delivered five-minute speech, flanked by two of the most avid golfers on Capitol Hill.
"I am joined by two of my favorite golf partners, the Vice President, Joe Biden, and the Speaker of the House, John Boehner," Obama said. "In each instance, they have to give me strokes.”
Directly behind the President stood a group of more than 20 millionaire golfers, most of whom likely did not vote for him. But on this night, politics didn’t matter. White House ceremonies for championship sports teams typically include a short speech from the President and some rapid-fire photography, but Tuesday’s golf party had a little extra sauce.
First, the losing side was also invited and several showed. Can you imagine Peyton Manning at the White House celebrating with the Seahawks? Jason Day, Ernie Els and Brendon de Jonge, vanquished last fall at Muirfield Village, were in the building and honored right along with the winners.
Phil Mickelson isn’t playing this week down the road at Congressional, but he flew into D.C. with his family, a fun pit stop en route to Scotland, where he’ll defend his Scottish Open and British Open titles next month. Mickelson has previously griped about tax rates in his home state of California. On Tuesday night he was on stage directly behind the President, beaming happily. Tiger Woods is returning to competition this week after a three-month layoff from back surgery. He’s also the tournament host at Congressional, so this, even for him, is a busy week. Lindsey Vonn was on his arm and a recent college graduate from his foundation tagged along as a special guest. Woods smiled for the cameras and never reached for his surgically-repaired back.
Before the ceremony, guests strolled the halls, mingling and gawking at the scene. The charming Jacqueline Kennedy Garden was right out the ground-floor window. On the second floor a live band strummed away and three adjacent sitting rooms – the Green Room, Blue Room and Red Room -- were open. The central Blue Room’s window faces straight down to the iron gates that open to Pennsylvania Avenue. Seeing such a familiar scene from reverse –- this time from inside the White House -- was surreal. A few players knocked on the glass, which must have been a foot thick, and marveled at the view.
Soon it was time to grab a chair. “Ladies and gentlemen, we are seated in the East Room,” said a square-jawed gentleman standing just outside one of the White House’s most famous ballrooms. Rows of stiff, wood-backed chairs lined the chamber. The doorman wore a dapper suit. He also wore an earpiece. His words weren’t what you typically hear in day-to-day life, so they stuck. The East Room.
Photographers ringed the perimeter. Three sparkling chandeliers, each roughly the size of a Citgo, dangled overhead. The ceremony started a little late. Tour commissioner Tim Finchem spoke first and was uncharacteristically brief while thanking the President for his famous (sure, some would say infamous) golf bug. “It’s nice to see you get out and play and tell the story of why this game is so great,” the commish said.
POTUS was next, and he kept it light all the way through. “I’m not used to seeing these guys in suits,” he quipped. He made a crack about young Jordan Spieth wearing the first jacket of his life. He congratulated both teams and praised several players individually, including Mickelson, Woods, Ernie Els, Jason Dufner and Zach Johnson for their charity work. He also thanked Phil, a fellow lefty, for a bunker tip moments earlier in the Green Room. “I’m pretty sure I can shave at least two or three strokes if I can just get out of the darn sand," he said. Even Boehner cracked up. The speech was short but enjoyable.
It was all there in the room. A winning team. A losing team. Democrats. Republicans. Millionaires. Less-than-millionaires. Players, wives, girlfriends, kids and press, all mixing at America’s most famous residence. Politics were irrelevant. Golf was the thing, and golf had a nice little evening. Everyone left the East Wing happy. We’d all get back to work in the morning.