Golf.com has performed an important service. It has posted five photographs, taken by AP photographer Gerald Herbert, that shows President-elect Barack Obama on vacation in Hawaii playing golf. This is invaluable as we all know that nothing, not even a CNN special called “Obama Revealed,” reveals the soul as ruthlessly and efficiently as how one plays the old Scottish game.
John F. Kennedy nearly made a hole-in-one on the short par-3 15th at Cypress Point (the best-smelling hole in all of golf, if you like the mix of eucalyptus and brackish ocean water) while running for the presidency in 1960. Kennedy, considered by presidential golfing historians to be by far the most skilled of our golf-playing presidents, was relieved to see the ball stay out. He was trying to succeed Dwight Eisenhower as president, and not as First Golfer. The game then wasn’t the populist activity it has become. Kennedy, foolishly, allowed himself to be photographed taking a golf swing in fancy loafers, no socks. Still, he won West Virginia.
But Obama does not have to run from his golf. The guess here is that he’s an athlete and a duffer and fun to play with.
In Photo No. 1, the first thing that strikes you is that Obama is a lefthanded golfer who plays golf wearing a watch, just like Phil Mickelson. Also like Lefty, the future president wears his watch on his left hand. One reason golfers will wear watches while playing is that it helps give them a visual for a hand position — the hinging of the hand and wrist — at the top of the swing. President-elect Obama, on the other hand, likely wants to know what time it is. Which is a good thing.
Photo No. 2 shows Obama with one of his staffers, Eugene Kang. Looks like a smart, young affable guy, maybe something like the character Charlie Young on “The West Wing,” who always had President Martin Sheen’s suit jacket ready. Whatever Kang’s responsibilities may be, they evidently include being not just golf partner but caddie, as he appears to be carrying both a lefthanded putter and a righthanded one.
Photo No. 3 indicates that, as a golfer Obama is taking a page from 41. That is, he’s warming up with a short iron. Sure, he could skip the 8-iron and go straight to the driver, let the big dog eat, give the crowd a thrill and while he’s at it take out a little Rod Blago aggression. But it wouldn’t be prudent. As Tiger likes to say, “Take baby steps.” Superb knee flex, it should be noted. He looks like a basketball player.
In Photo No. 4, Obama’s follow-through is not a thing of beauty, but there’s much to admire here: the cargo shorts (nothing says regular-joe golfer like cargo shorts), the little baseball cap that brings to mind the little caps worn by touring everyman Joe Durant, the casual pushed-down socks. We might need golf fashion guru Woody Hochswender to explain the pushed-down sock look and who it works for and why, but in any event the president-elect is not looking like a man who is taking his vacation golf too seriously. Which is an accomplishment itself.
In Photo No. 5, Obama has gotten a ball airborne and is admiring its flight. Who can’t relate to that?
Enjoy it while you can, sir.