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Tuesday, Sep 23, 2014

Charles Lane: Obama’s wedge issue


Nothing infuriates President Barack Obama’s adversaries more than his golf outings, which have become so frequent that even his sympathizers have started to mutter about the unseemly symbolism of a commander-in-chief who practically lives on the links.

In all the uproar, I’ve yet to hear what it is about golf that the president likes. He’s not using it as a social icebreaker with Congress, as other chief executives have done. Fresh air, perhaps, or quality time with pals? In 2012, Golf Digest reported that Obama enjoys wagering up to $10 a hole, so maybe that’s it.

My experience with the game suggests a different motivation: He just can’t help himself. I’m sure Obama would like to devote more time to his job and his family. But, you see, if he had just put that drive on No. 4 a little to the right, he probably would have made par. If that putt hadn’t lipped the cup and rolled another six feet, a double bogey would have been a bogey. So if he just spends a little more time on the driving range and keeps his head down ...

My golf trajectory is typical, which is one reason the game is losing popularity and, some fear (hope?), slowly dying out. A recent New York Times article cited National Golf Foundation statistics to the effect that the game will lose 20 percent of the current 25 million players in the next few years.

It has dawned on the doyens of the sport that expensive, time-consuming exasperation is a tough sell. Some have proposed attracting younger people by tweaking the ancient rules; one idea is to let beginners putt into a 15-inch-wide hole instead of the current 4.25-inch receptacle. They’ll have to make it big enough for a beach ball to lure me back.

These facts about the game’s declining popularity suggest a new hypothesis — beyond the standard gripes about how odd it is for a president to lament an American’s murder by terrorists one minute and reach for his driver the next — as to why Obama’s golf habit may hurt him politically. In a country where fewer and fewer people actually share his obsession, fewer and fewer are willing to cut him any slack for indulging it.

Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush, swore off golf after concluding that it didn’t look right to play while Americans fought and died in Iraq. Obama might be well-advised to follow Bush’s example.

Actually, I don’t know why Obama’s enemies insist that he quit. If they really wanted to ruin his life, they’d tell him to get back out on the course — and stay there.

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