Golfing for Bush and God
Playing the patriot game
“In America, with several notable exceptions, most pros seem like friendly apolitical athletes who, if the conversation veers from golf, might talk about football or reality TV, but seem incurious about world affairs and, as Bush memorably once confessed, have little inclination to read books. In the US PGA Tour media guide by far the most popular “special interest” listed by players is fishing, followed by hunting.
Rarely does any player mention current events, history, film or politics. The famously laid-back but college-educated Fred Couples, no doubt speaking for many on tour, once told me during the Bill Clinton years that he had never voted in his life.”
“In a Sports Illustrated survey of 76 US Tour players published in March, 88% said they supported the American invasion of Iraq, and 91% supported Bush’s controversial nomination of Samuel Alito to the US Supreme Court – a judge who was welcomed by Republican and fundamentalist Christian groups as the court’s possible swing vote in one day outlawing abortion.
This Republican tilt on tour has been documented since at least the Ronald Reagan administration and is so widely accepted as fact that in the presidential election year of 1996, Golf Digest asked me to do a story on tour politics and specifically hunt for any golfer who would actually admit to supporting Clinton, a Democrat (in 1993, some Republicans on the American Ryder Cup team threatened to boycott a visit to the White House to protest against a Clinton tax plan that raised taxes on the rich).
My search only turned up one heretic – former US Open winner Scott Simpson – a free spirit and “born again Christian” who has now reversed his thinking and supports Bush.”
“Not coincidentally, the American pro golf world, which has been heavily influenced by corporate America and Republican politics for at least 30 years, now has such a strong element of Christian fundamentalists that the entire Ryder Cup leadership – Tom Lehman, Corey Pavin and Loren Roberts – are all self-professed born-again Christians. Roberts was even converted and baptised at a tournament.
In the book The Way of an Eagle, Lehman says: “God has definitely used golf in a great way over the last several years. I think of myself as a Christian who plays golf, not as a golfer who is a Christian. So whatever kind of job I do, there is a way for God to use that as a tool. In society at large, especially the way golf is growing, there is a huge platform for golfers.”
Perhaps because of his public Christianity and several incidents of less-than-Christian-like behaviour, Lehman has developed an unflattering reputation in some golf circles. John Huggan, the European golf correspondent for Golf Digest, recounts how Lehman confronted him angrily when he wrote about Lehman’s much-criticised behaviour in 1999 at the Ryder Cup near Boston, when he led the ghastly American charge of players across the 17th green following Justin Leonard’s miraculous putt.”