President-elect Barack Obama's rise to the pinnacle of political power and his ability to enthrall giant crowds with his skills as an orator have drawn comparisons to former President John F. Kennedy. Those comparisons do not, however, carry over to the golf course.
Obama is clearly not as comfortable on the links as he is at the speaker's podium or the basketball court. Obama has played golf three times during his trip home to Hawaii for the Holidays, and each time he has looked less than presidential, but not terrible, according to local professionals. Norman-Ganin S. Asao, the head professional at Olomana Golf Links where Obama learned the game as a teenager and where he plays at least once during each trip home to Honolulu, says Obama has "maybe a 20'something handicap" based on the swings he's seen. "He's not a bad golfer at all," says Asao. "I've definitely seen a lot worse."
"I've seen him hit a few balls and hit a few shots," says Asao. "He looks like he shoots in the 90's to the low hundreds. Obviously he'll hit those bad shots here and there but it always seems once the round gets going he starts to play a little better."
On Monday Obama joined Chicago friends Eric Whitaker, Martin Nesbitt, aide Eugene Kang and Punahou High classmates Bobby Titcomb Greg Orme for a round at the Mid-Pacific Country Club in the exclusive seaside community of Lanikai. (Obama may be the most successful graduate of Punahou but not its best golfer. PGA tour member Parker McLachlin and LPGA phenom Michelle Wie hail from the school.) (See Obama's family tree.)
After loading his clubs onto a cart, Obama, wearing sunglasses, a white shirt, khaki shorts, white and brown golf shoes, and a red baseball cap emblazoned with the City and County of Honolulu's Ocean Safety logo, drove down to the driving range. Standing next to Whitaker, Obama , with a white glove on his right hand, took three practice swings. His first shot was a ground ball straight ahead. His next shot went airborne but created a divot that Obama walked out to pick up and replace.
But it did get better for President-elect.
On the par 4, 414 yard 18th hole, Obama approached his ball in the middle of the fairway and hit a shot that flew low and straight for about 75 yards before landing at the front, center-edge of the green. More than 100 people sitting on a rock wall along the fairway applauded as Obama approached and he put his gloved right hand to his mouth to signal for quiet pointing to another member of his group who was getting ready to shoot.
As he got close to his ball, Obama turned to the crowd and said, "Hey guys. That was pretty good right? That almost made up for my 20 yard drive." That drew applause and laughter and prompted one member of the crowd to shout, "Better than your bowling," in reference to Obama's 33 score during a campaign stop in Pennsylvania earlier this year. Obama replied, "That's right," and smiled and laughed before turning back to walk toward the green to size up his putt.
Obama lined up his putt then tapped the ball about a dozen feet before it stopped within a foot of the cup. The crowd applauded and Obama turned to them, put his hand above the bill of his baseball cap, and bowed.
According to Golf Digest, Obama ranks eighth among the list of golfing Presidents, behind Bill Clinton but ahead of Ronald Reagan. Unlike JFK, who ranks number 1 on the Golf Digest list of 15, Obama does not shoot consistently in the 80's nor does not he play 100 rounds a year like Dwight Eisenhower (who is second in the list).
In June, Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs told MSNBC that Obama's game was not up to par. "I don't know if he would tell you [that he and his companions] played golf," said Gibbs, responding to a query by an MSNBC anchor about Obama's game. "They went to a golf course and they swung clubs, but I don't think it was real pretty."