President Bill Clinton (l) and PGA TOUR Commissioner Tim Finchem meet with the media
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
LA QUINTA, Calif. -- First, the consummate politician worked the practice range as pros and amateurs alike prepared for the first round of the Humana Challenge in partnership with the Clinton Foundation.
After everyone had teed off in the $5.6 million PGA TOUR event, former President Bill Clinton met with a much less contentious gathering of the media than he was used to in the White House and talked about his vision to improve the world's health as well as his love of the game. Here are some highlights (scroll down to watch the interview):
>>> Clinton called a tip he received from Tom Watson "practically the best political lesson I ever got from anybody ... He said, golf is the way politics is. If your grip is too far to the right, you're going to get in trouble on the left. But if your grip is too far to the left, you're going to get in big trouble on the right. The trick is for your grip to be just right. Worth remembering in these days."
>>> Clinton, who played with former Presidents Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush and Bob Hope in the 1995 event, said he would like to bring President Barack Obama with him to next year's Humana Challenge. "I came once as President for Bob Hope. And I think it would really mean a lot to him and I think that he would be able to, he and Michelle Obama, could look at some of this (wellness) stuff that's part of what they're trying to do."
>>> Clinton called Obama a "total golf nut" and talked about a recent round at Andrews Air Force Base before inaugural business intervened. "And he had the lowest score by far he had every shot at Andrews, he was five shots ahead of me after nine holes. But I'm older, I start slow and pick up. So I picked up four of those strokes in the first three holes of the back nine and after, so I'm only 1 down, and he leaves at 13 he says, got to go. I said, hey, you're talking to somebody that's had this job and made that excuse. But I said, as it happened, we were playing partners, so I wanted him to shoot well."
>>> Clinton also joked that he had no opinion on long putter because "I've never been able to figure out how to use one of those things." He recalled when Sam Snead putted between his legs. "And once I got over 40 and my vision started to warp, and my lens started to flatten out, I got it. I mean, if you let me putt that way now, I would make three times as many putts of 10 or 12 feet. ... It's stunning the difference it makes."
>>> On whether the amateurs and pros were intimidated by him: "They might have been last year, but when they saw how lousy I was on the golf course, I think they got over it in a hurry."
>>> On his thoughts about Tuesday's wellness conference. "I rarely have seen this much improvement (over the 2011 event), but I think what it reflects is the, besides the fact that we have all been working hard on this, what it really reflects is everyone knows this is a big deal. They know we can't keep spending more of our income on health care. They know that the baby boomer retirement alone could make us do that. ... Maybe we just met at a moment in time when we all needed each other and we're going to wind up doing a lot of good because of it."
UPDATE: President Bill Clinton and Greg Norman were in the 10th fairway on the Palmer Course at PGA West when play was suspended due to high winds on Saturday. In an attempt to complete all 72 holes by Sunday evening, tournament officials decided only the pros will return to complete the third round at 7:30 a.m. PT (10:30 a.m. ET) Sunday. So Clinton and Norman will not be able to finish their round.
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
LA QUINTA, Calif. -- As President Bill Clinton waited to tee off in the third round of the Humana Challenge, one of the fans in the stands took the opportunity to loudly compliment his shoes.
The white adidas with the red and blue stripes across the middle and that tiny American flag on the side were a birthday present several years ago, Clinton told her.
"They're the best part of my game," he said amiably and the crowd, which was hanging on the 42nd President's every move, laughed heartily.
"You haven't seen me play yet," Clinton said good-naturedly, egging on the fans, who stood four deep on the first tee of the Palmer Course at PGA West.
All those Democrats and Republicans in attendance didn't have to wait too much longer. About five minutes later the man who was introduced as "formerly of Washington, D.C., Mr. William Jefferson Clinton" stepped confidently to the tee and sent his drive airborne into the left rough.
Clinton appeared as comfortable inside the ropes Saturday as he's been outside them all week long. He patiently signed autographs, making a personal connection with nearly every person who thrust a program, book or golf ball in his hand.
When one fan told Clinton he'd served at Fort Stewart, as well as in Kosovo, the President said earnestly, "Thank you for going there." He waved to the wait staff at the Championship Lounge as they stood at the back door applauding as he walked to the practice tee.
Clinton was playing Saturday to an 18 handicap, which is the maximum allowed for the tournament. He hit a variety of shots on the range, often to the left and occasionally dribbled off the tee, which only added to his humanity. When defending champion Jhonattan Vegas came up to shake Clinton's hand, the President offered up a golfer's common lament: "the older I get the harder it is for me to turn."
At one point on the practice green, Clinton rolled in a long putt that drew a shriek from the crowd and some polite applause. The 42nd President turned to his partner for the day, Greg Norman, and said, "I just made a putt for us." Meanwhile, PGA TOUR media official Mark Stevens noted that Mark Wilson, who was tied for the overnight lead, was 4 under through four holes but there wasn't a mass exodus to La Quinta -- yet.
Later, as Clinton liberally applied a shield of sunscreen on an increasing bright morning, he looked over at the crowd. "Greg Norman didn't realize how geriatric I'd become since the last time I played golf with him," Clinton said with a chuckle.
The two are good friends who talk several times a year but they had only played golf together once prior to Saturday. That came in Australia in 1994 while Clinton was still in office -- a date Norman almost didn't keep because he didn't agree with the Democrat’s politics. President George H.W. Bush urged Norman to respect the office, though, and the friendship was born.
As the foursome -- which also included Humana CEO Mike McCallister and PGA TOUR veteran Scott McCarron -- assembled for the obligatory first-tee photos, Clinton, who had been over shaking hands with several fans in wheelchairs on a platform reserved for handicapped patrons, realized he didn't have a club. So Norman, who had been briefly serenaded with "Waltzing Matilda," handed the former Chief Executive his driver.
"I can't hit his club," Clinton said, laughing.
Norman hit his drive into the first cut on the left side of the fairway. McCarron, who has a home in La Quinta and protested when he was introduced as being from Reno, Nev., -- "That is just for tax purposes," he joked -- outdrove Norman and found the left fairway bunker. "Great shot, Scottie," Norman yelled the instant the ball was struck, striding quickly to the next tee for the main event.
Norman and McCarron ended up making a pars. Clinton hit his second shot just short of the green, then chipped on and three-putted from 25 feet for a double bogey that McCallister matched.
And with that the high-powered foursome was off. The many fans who followed narrowly missed meeting another legend, too – Arnold Palmer was patiently posing for pictures with fans and signing autographs as he headed out to see his grandson, Sam Saunders, make the turn.
LA QUINTA, Calif. -- Tuesday was all business for President Bill Clinton as he hosted the very successful "Health Matters: Activating Wellness in Every Generation" conference held in conjunction with the Humana Challenge.
Now the 42nd President gets to enjoy himself a little as he plays not one, but two rounds of golf in the Coachello Valley this week.
The first comes today in a pro-am to benefit the William J. Clinton Foundation, which has partnered with Humana to present this week's popular PGA TOUR event. The event, which will be played at The Tradition, is not open to the public.
That said, there will be at least one high-profile spectator -- the legendary Arnold Palmer, who designed the course and has a home at The Tradition.
"I'll be there to receive him," Palmer told the Desert Sun, adding he was flying in early Wednesday morning. The King won't play in the pro-am but he is expected to have lunch with the former Chief Executive.
On Saturday, Clinton will play in the Humana Challenge for the second time -- this time partnering with his good friend Greg Norman in a foursome that also includes Humana CEO Mike McCallister and three-time PGA TOUR champ Scott McCarron.
The high-powered foursome tees off at 10:20 a.m. on No. 1 at the Palmer Private Course at PGA West.
In 1995 Clinton became the only sitting President to play in a PGA TOUR event at what was then called the Bob Hope Classic. He played with the comedian; two former Presidents, Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush; and PGA TOUR veteran Scott Hoch.