TOUR Insider: Protocol for talking with a President

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Former President George W.H. Bush watches Adam Scott's victory at Redstone in 2007.
March 28, 2012
Fred Albers, PGATOUR.COM Correspondent

HUMBLE, Texas -- When ever I think of The Shell Houston Open, one number pops into my mind.

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It's not the difficult 18th or the driveable 12th. It's not the risk reward par 5s or the difficult par 3s at the Redstone Golf Club.

It's 41. As in, the 41st President of the United States: George H.W. Bush. President Bush is a frequent tournament attendee, and I've had the chance to chat with him the last five years.

I do dozens of interviews every week for the PGA TOUR Network on SiriusXM. There are some that get your attention more than others.

You always have to be alert when talking one-on-one with Tiger Woods. He does not tolerate sloppy questions, but appreciates if you can incorporate a sense of humor into the discussion.

Phil Mickelson is extremely intelligent. You have to listen to his answers very carefully, because he will occasionally sneak in something newsworthy or controversial.

I have talked with dozens of corporate sponsors in which you discuss the tournament but also casually promote the company and charity.

But when you interview a President, there is a totally different preparation and protocol.

You never know if President Bush is going to be on the grounds -- or if he will talk that day. I imagine it's a security issue, as travel plans and details are never given in advance. The President usually makes an appearance on Friday afternoon, and our show's producers let officials know that a couple minutes with the President would be greatly appreciated.

If everything slides exactly into the correct slot, you are told the President is available for a couple questions. You are then escorted out to the golf course.

President Bush and the First Lady Barbara sometimes sit behind the par-3 16th green. There is a small roped-off area behind the green, and the Presidential couple sits in lawn chairs watching the hole and greeting players as they exit to the 17th tee. Everything looks very casual, but everything is carefully orchestrated.

There is the "Presidential Prep" before you are allowed inside that roped area. One of the President's entourage will give you a briefing on protocol.

You always refer to him as "President Bush." He is not the "former President," and nothing so informal as "Mr. Bush," "George" or "41" would be appropriate.

You are told under no circumstances is the President to be touched. If the President wants to shake hands, he will initiate the process, not the reporter. The President will touch my arm or shake my hand to let me know when I've asked the last question.

I am also very aware of several men in black coats who are always within an arm length of the President, and none of them appear to have any sense of humor.

You are also told what questions are appropriate. The President always wants to discuss the Shell Oil Company and what great partners they are with the PGA TOUR and in the Houston Community. A question about his golf game is appropriate and a general inquiry about his health or any of his special projects is also tolerated.

Under no circumstance is anything political is to asked. I once heard my producer say, " I'll kill him on the spot if he would ever do that."

Of course, I never would. I fully understand the President gives us 90 seconds because he wants to promote the tournament. I am not going to morph into Brian Williams. My questions are the softball variety, and if I don't like the parameters, I can always decline the interview.

I never do.

Very few people get to talk with a President in a one-on-one situation and every time I get to spend a moment with President Bush, I consider it a privilege.

FADING IS FINE: Redstone Golf Club features water on 10 of 18 holes, but most of the trouble is on the left hand side. Players that favor a fade this week can hit their cut on most holes with little fear.

WATERY GRAVE: The 18th hole definitely gets a player's attention. It's a 488-yard par 4 with water down the entire left side. In 2011, the hole gave up a total of 32 birdies and 131 scores of bogey or higher. Standing on 72nd tee is definitely a gut check. I think it's one of the better final holes of the PGA TOUR season.

AGGRESSION PAYS: Maybe no course on TOUR rewards aggressive play like Redstone Golf Club. In 2010, Anthony Kim hit a tournament-worst 23 fairways and won. Last year, Phil Mickelson tried to hit 15 of the 16 par 5s with his second shot. He played those par 5s in a tournament leading 14 under.([(For ShotLink data about Redstone, click here.)])

AND MY PICK IS: I'm giving a hesitant nod to Steve Stricker. If you look at past winners like Adam Scott, Kim and Mickelson -- the course favors a big hitter -- Stricker does not fall into that category. He ranks 167th this year in driving distance.

Still, it's hard to overlook what Stricker does well. He ranks fifth in greens hit, first in birdie average and second in scrambling. He has posted four top 11 finishes in five starts at Redstone, and tied for fourth in 2011.

.red Albers is a course reporter for SiriusXM PGA TOUR Radio and is inside the ropes this week at the Shell Houston Open. For more information on SiriusXM PGA TOUR Radio, [click here].