Forty-eight years later, Arnold Palmer takes a look at JFK’s golf swing

January 21, 2012

In Arnold Palmer's museum of an office in Latrobe, Pa., there's a great deal of presidential golfing memorabilia, dating to 1958, when Eisenhower briefly met Palmer, didn't recognize him as the reigning Masters champion and later wrote him to apologize for the slight. It was the start of a beautiful friendship.

There are letters from presidents, photographs, scorecards—and a golf bag with Eisenhower's clubs. There are golf-related photographs of Palmer with Eisenhower, George H.W. Bush, Gerald Ford and Bill Clinton, but none with JFK, who is generally regarded as the most natural of the golfing presidents. He competed on the golf team at Harvard. Palmer and Kennedy never met. Palmer has been a Republican all his life. His father, Deacon, who helped build Latrobe (Pa.) Country Club, "was a Roosevelt Democrat," Palmer said. "He thought Roosevelt saved the world."

Here is Arnold Palmer's analysis of JFK's swing 48 years after the fact.

On his scheduled golf game with JFK
"In '63 I was scheduled to play with him in Palm Beach, I think at the Palm Beach Country Club. But then I got a call that he couldn't play, that his back was bad. So that was that. I never knew about these films he had made. When was it, summer of '63? I remember that summer. [He shakes his head.] I lost a U.S. Open [to Julius Boros] for a second straight year in a playoff."

On JFK's wardrobe
"Blue shirt, pink pants. That's a good combination. I've had plenty of pink shirts and some pink sport coats. No pink pants. He has his shirttail out, but this is casual golf. I never played shirttail out, but it came out a lot. I wonder why he's wearing sunglasses? I don't remember him wearing glasses. That was unusual then."

On JFK's setup
"He looks pretty good over the ball, pretty solid. But he needs to firm up his arms."

On JFK's backswing
"His arms collapse. His first move back is low and inside. And flat. He's very flat."

More on the backswing
"His bad back is not helping him. It's hurting him. He sways. He never really gets to his right side."

Final thoughts on JFK's backswing
"If he could get to the right side, he could come through it with more zip."

On JFK's downswing
"His left knee totally collapses. He's not turning into his left knee. He doesn't finish on his left side. He falls back."

On JFK's putting
"What's he doing there? His hands are too close to his body. His putting looks like somebody I know—me!"

Comparing JFK's swing to the two presidents with whom he played often, Eisenhower and Clinton
"It's hard to compare Ike and JFK, because Ike was a much older man when I played with him. Kennedy's in his mid-40s. Clinton's swing might be a little bit more athletic [than JFK's]. Not much more so, just a little bit. I played with Clinton the other day, at Trump's course in New York. Clinton can hit it, but you never know what zip code he's going to hit it into."

On JFK's golf cart
"Look at that—the three-wheeled cart. That's the early days of golf carts. The three-wheeled cart didn't last long."

On fixing JFK's swing and his potential as a golfer
"He's very fixable. I would have told him to firm up the arms, get over to his right side, then get all the way through to his left side. I'd get his hands a little farther away from his body on the putting. Not a lot, just a little. You could see him shooting in the mid-80s. You could see him shooting 85."

Complete Coverage: 2011 U.S. Open at Congressional