Barack Obama among list of golfing presidents

By Associated PressAugust 16, 2013, 10:04 pm

VINEYARD HAVEN, Mass. – American presidents love golf - 15 of the last 18 have played - and Barack Obama is an eager member of that club.

He's played golf on four of six days since arriving on the Massachusetts island of Martha's Vineyard last Saturday. The White House never releases his scores and generally does not allow news coverage of his games - although it did allow the press to watch him briefly once this week.

Tiger Woods played with Obama in Florida last February and said at the time that the left-handed president hits the ball well.

''If he ever spent - after these four years - spent more time playing the game of golf, I'm sure he could get to where he's a pretty good stick,'' Woods said. ''He's got an amazing touch. He can certainly chip and putt.''

Obama's interest in golf dates back to his high school years when he started playing in Hawaii. Later, golf was a pastime during the eight, sometimes frustrating, years he spent as an Illinois senator.

Democrats were the minority party when Obama took his Illinois Senate seat in January 1997. Majority Republicans hardly ever sought them out and paid scant attention to their priorities. So when he had free time, Obama often joined fellow senators and lobbyist friends on golf courses in the state capital of Springfield.

''When you're in the minority you have a lot of time on your hands because nobody is seeking you out for advice or votes,'' said state Sen. Terry Link, who took his seat the same year as Obama. ''So what we did is we decided to start playing golf when the weather broke and we were still down'' in Springfield. They tried to play a couple of times a week, he said.

''We played and worked on his game and eventually he got a little bit better,'' Link said. ''I guess he plays a lot more than he used to or I think he'd like to play a lot more than he could.''

Phil Manning, a lobbyist Obama played with, said ''it was a healthy outlet'' for blowing off steam.

Competitive at athletics, Obama paid for private instruction to help his game, Link said.

Obama was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2004 and moved to Washington. By 2007, he was a candidate for president, winning the race in 2008 and re-election last year.

Being in the White House seems to have deepened Obama's love of the game.

He's has played 137 rounds of golf as president in the past four and a half years, including at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, the Army's Fort Belvoir in Virginia, during family vacations to Hawaii and Martha's Vineyard, and elsewhere, according to meticulous records kept by CBS News White House correspondent Mark Knoller.

Many of the presidents who played golf wrestled with the image of themselves playing in front of cameras, according to Don Van Natta's 2003 book, ''First off the Tee: Presidential Hackers, Duffers and Cheaters from Taft to Bush.''

George W. Bush quit playing golf in the fall of 2003, after 2 1/2 years in office, saying it was inappropriate for the commander in chief to be seen playing while Americans were fighting and dying in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Golf suffers from its reputation as a sport for the elite - the same perception the Columbia and Harvard-educated Obama has pushed back against throughout his political career.

It's partly for these reasons that White House officials, even former members who've played with Obama, decline to discuss his golf game.

Obama has said the hours he spends walking from hole to hole or driving the golf cart, as he did this week, are special for someone who is always surrounded by a tight knot of armed security personnel and military aides who drive or fly him practically everywhere he goes.

''It is the only time that, for six hours, first of all, that I'm outside, and second of all, you almost feel normal in the sense that you're not in the bubble,'' he told CBS News shortly after taking office in 2009. ''There are a whole bunch of Secret Service guys, but they're sort of in the woods. And when you're up there in the tee box and you're hacking away and hitting some terrible shot and your friends are laughing at you, you know, it feels as though, you know, you're out of the container.''

On Golf Digest's June 2011 list of the top 150 Washington golfers, Obama was tied for 108th place with Republican Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., behind House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Vice President Joe Biden. He was eighth, behind Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and George H.W. Bush, on the magazine's January 2009 ranking of the 15 presidents who played golf.

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McIlroy gets back on track

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 21, 2018, 3:10 pm

There’s only one way to view Rory McIlroy’s performance at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship:

He is well ahead of schedule.

Sure, McIlroy is probably disappointed that he couldn’t chase down Ross Fisher (and then Tommy Fleetwood) on the final day at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. But against a recent backdrop of injuries and apathy, his tie for third was a resounding success. He reasserted himself, quickly, and emerged 100 percent healthy.

“Overall, I’m happy,” he said after finishing at 18-under 270, four back of Fleetwood. “I saw some really, really positive signs. My attitude, patience and comfort level were really good all week.”

To fully appreciate McIlroy’s auspicious 2018 debut, consider his state of disarray just four months ago. He was newly married. Nursing a rib injury. Breaking in new equipment. Testing another caddie. His only constant was change. “Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place,” he said, “and that was because of where I was physically.”

And so he hit the reset button, taking the longest sabbatical of his career, a three-and-a-half-month break that was as much psychological as physical. He healed his body and met with a dietician, packing five pounds of muscle onto his already cut frame. He dialed in his TaylorMade equipment, shoring up a putting stroke and wedge game that was shockingly poor for a player of his caliber. Perhaps most importantly, he cleared his cluttered mind, cruising around Italy with wife Erica in a 1950s Mercedes convertible.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


After an intense buildup to his season debut, McIlroy was curious about the true state of his game, about how he’d stack up when he finally put a scorecard in his hand. It didn’t take him long to find out. 

Playing the first two rounds alongside Dustin Johnson – the undisputed world No. 1 who was fresh off a blowout victory at Kapalua – McIlroy beat him by a shot. Despite a 103-day competitive layoff, he played bogey-free for 52 holes. And he put himself in position to win, trailing by one heading into the final round. Though Fleetwood blew away the field with a back-nine 30 to defend his title, McIlroy collected his eighth top-5 in his last nine appearances in Abu Dhabi.

“I know it’s only three months,” he said, “but things change, and I felt like maybe I needed a couple of weeks to get back into the thought process that you need to get into for competitive golf. I got into that pretty quickly this week, so that was the most pleasing thing.”

The sense of relief afterward was palpable. McIlroy is entering his 11th full year as a pro, and deep down he likely realizes 2018 is shaping up as his most important yet.

The former Boy Wonder is all grown up, and his main challengers now are a freakish athlete (DJ) and a trio of players under 25 (Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm) who don’t lack for motivation or confidence. The landscape has changed significantly since McIlroy’s last major victory, in August 2014, and the only way he’ll be able to return to world No. 1 is to produce a sustained period of exceptional golf, like the rest of the game’s elite. (Based on average points, McIlroy, now ranked 11th, is closer to the bottom of the rankings, No. 1928, than to Johnson.)

But after years of near-constant turmoil, McIlroy, 28, finally seems ready to pursue that goal again. He is planning the heaviest workload of his career – as many as 30 events, including seven more starts before the Masters – and appears refreshed and reenergized, perhaps because this year, for the first time in a while, he is playing without distractions.

Not his relationships or his health. Not his equipment or his caddie or his off-course dealings.

Everything in his life is lined up.

Drama tends to follow one of the sport’s most captivating characters, but for now he can just play golf – lots and lots of golf. How liberating.

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Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 2:20 pm

Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.

Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.

There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.


Full-field scores from the Singapore Open


Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.

The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.

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Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:40 pm

Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.

Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.

It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.

While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.

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McIlroy (T-3) notches another Abu Dhabi close call

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:08 pm

Rory McIlroy's trend of doing everything but hoist the trophy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship is alive and well.

Making his first start since early October, McIlroy showed few signs of rust en route to a tie for third. Amid gusty winds, he closed with a 2-under 70 to finish the week at 18 under, four shots behind Tommy Fleetwood who rallied to win this event for the second consecutive year.

The result continues a remarkable trend for the Ulsterman, who has now finished third or better seven of the last eight years in Abu Dhabi - all while never winning the tournament. That stretch includes four runner-up finishes and now two straight T-3 results.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


McIlroy is entering off a disappointing 2017 in which he was injured in his first start and missed two chunks of time while trying to regain his health. He has laid out an ambitious early-season schedule, one that will include a trip to Dubai next week and eight worldwide tournament starts before he heads to the Masters.

McIlroy started the final round one shot off the lead, and he remained in contention after two birdies over his first four holes. But a bogey on No. 6 slowed his momentum, and McIlroy wasn't able to make a back-nine birdie until the closing hole, at which point the title was out of reach.