THE PRESIDENTS CUP
Three former Presidents make for an amazing start
September 28, 2017
By Mike McAllister, PGATOUR.COM
The United States leads by two after Day 1 of the Presidents Cup
JERSEY CITY, N.J. – Phil Mickelson waited patiently for his opportunity. Then he pounced. With phone in hand, he walked swiftly toward the dignitaries’ box adjacent to the first tee at Liberty National.
The first three chairs on the front row were occupied by former Presidents of the United States – Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama. As Mickelson approached, Clinton gave him a salute. Mickelson took off his cap, shook the hands of all three men, then did what any of us would do in that situation. He asked to take a selfie.
“How can you not do that?” Mickelson explained, adding, “Their presence really means a lot to this event. That’s what it’s about. It’s the Presidents Cup.”
Afterwards, Mickelson practically bounded back down the fairway. When he met up with some of his U.S. teammates along with his captain Steve Stricker, he giddily showed them the photo. Alas, it was not perfect. Phil had aimed too high, and half his face was cropped off.
We need to work on Phil's selfie skills a bit 😂 pic.twitter.com/e8yEMMNjtj— Presidents Cup (@PresidentsCup) September 28, 2017
“I’m so bad at selfies,” shrugged Mickelson.
Not to worry. Memories of Thursday’s opening festivities, with three Presidents in attendance for the first time in this event, will never be forgotten.
Actually, the interaction between the Presidents Cup teams and the ex-Presidents didn’t just start on Thursday’s first tee. The night before, the teams visited the Freedom Tower, with Clinton and Bush delivering speeches.
“Bush was funny, and Clinton was, you know, amazing,” Stricker recalled Thursday night as he sat next to International Captain Nick Price after announcing their lineups for Friday’s Four-ball session. “The speech that he gave last night was truly moving, and funny, too. They are so good at what they do. You can see the position that they are in and see why they were there in that position.”
Asked what exactly was moving about the speech, Stricker replied, “Just talking about 9/11 and I think if I remember right, Clinton talked about having America coming together a little bit more; and what a great opportunity for us during the matches here and golf to bring people together and support all of our countries.
“It's just the way he said it. I can't even do it justice, you know. I really can't.”
Injected Price: “It was almost like they were in a comfort zone talking to sports men, to golfers.”
Price had met Clinton and Obama during previous visits to the White House, but this week was his first time to meet Bush. Calling them icons, he noted how all three of the ex-Presidents weren’t afraid to proclaim their rooting interest.
“They all said the same thing,” Price said. “‘Guys, we can't pull for you, but we want you to have a good match.’ They were great. Of course, you're not going to pull for us; you guys are Americans. You're Presidents. But they are golfers and they are great sports men, too.
“And our boys really appreciate that. They are very kind and very thoughtful.”
Still, it was easy to feel a bit intimidated on the tee box Thursday. With each President wearing a short-sleeved golf shirt with the Presidents Cup logo, they posed for plenty of photos, shook lots of hands, smiled and waved to the full stands for more than 30 minutes. U.S. assistant captain Fred Couples spent several minutes chatting with them; you wondered how many rounds of golf Couples has played with each one.
When it came time for the competition to start, the ex-Presidents stood together behind the tee box, as looming a presence as any TOUR pro will ever find himself. South African Charl Schwartzel, teeing off first for the Internationals, had the honors of striking the first tee shot in front of them.
“It was one of the most exciting moments of my life, standing there,” Schwartzel said. “I was looking forward to this Presidents Cup for a very long time, and I didn't expect all the Presidents to be there. Just to get to meet them was a dream come true for me. You know, then obviously to hit that first tee shot with the wind pumping off the right was quite intimidating.
“But I thought I made a pretty good swing.”
Schwartzel and his partner Hideki Matsuyama were facing Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler in that opening match. Fowler took the opening drive for his team, allowing the newly crowned FedExCup champ and his caddie, Jimmy Johnson, to soak it all in.
“That's the cool thing about golf is it ties us all together so much and they love golf, too,” Thomas said. “We have that kind of similarity and thing that we can kind of bounce back to or rely on. They are pulling for us. They just wanted to come out -- it's unbelievable, this being the Presidents Cup. Jimmy and I were saying, we just had three former Presidents of the United States on the first tee cheering us on and shaking our hand and acting like we are all boys, and it's pretty unbelievable.”
All three Presidents stuck around through the start of the third match, one that included Americans Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed. Asked what he said to the Presidents, Reed replied, “Hi, how you doing? It’s been a while.”
Spieth, meanwhile, doesn’t live too far away from Bush in the Dallas area. They’ve played golf together on a few occasions. “He absolutely loves it,” Spieth said. “He's a nut for it, and the other two are known to do it, as well. Cool of them to show up. I know it's the Presidents Cup, but they certainly have pretty busy schedules.”
After Reed hit his tee shot, the crowds thinned slightly, American fans in particular opting to follow their team’s powerhouse duo. Obama began making his exit. Before ducking into the tunnel, he noticed a group of American fans in the stands above him, all decked out in red, white and blue.
“How you doing, guys? Appreciate ya!” he said.
Clinton and Bush hung around, though, with Clinton munching on a green apple to help stave off hunger.
Finally, Mickelson was back on the tee box, this time for his match, the last one of the day. He and teammate Kevin Kisner were facing the Australian duo of Jason Day and Marc Leishman.
Kisner would be teeing off for the Americans – and that allowed Mickelson to provide some strategy tips to Clinton. They stood in the back of the tee, Clinton pointing down the fairway to the big willow tree at the end of the water hazard down the left side. It seemed to be a long carry, especially in these tricky wind conditions.
Clinton asked Mickelson, “If you were teeing off, would you hit 3-wood?”
Replied Mickelson, “No, I’d go ahead and hit driver. We can all reach that tree, even in the wind.”
A bit more strategy talk ensued, and then Mickelson joined Kisner to walk down the fairway. Bush and Clinton eventually departed, too but only after more handshakes and photos and smiles.
Eventually, the dignitaries’ box was empty. All that was left were a scattering of white chairs, each with a name on the backrest. Three of those names were once the most powerful men in the free world who had come on this day to simply watch some golf.