Relaxing Clinton tees off into rough Islanders follow to wish him well

August 22, 1993|By Carl M. Cannon | Carl M. Cannon,Staff Writer

MARTHA'S VINEYARD, Mass. -- President Clinton finally showed his face on the Vineyard yesterday, and the islanders shed their traditional Yankee reserve to greet the man many simply call "Bill."

"Nice shot, Bill!" yelled local resident Michael Gibson -- despite the fact that a brisk wind carried the president's 10th fairway tee shot off the fairway and into the rough. As Mr. Clinton's smile faded and he groused about the wind, Mr. Gibson shouted encouraging, "It'll play from there, Bill."

Mr. Clinton played golf in the morning, took his daughter to the county fair in the afternoon and went to a dinner party at night on the third day of his planned 11-day stay. Everywhere he went, Vineyard residents eroded their well-studied reputation for being cool among celebrities by lining the roadways and fairways to wave to the president, wish him well and cheer his tee-shots.

"I want to shake his hand," said Ann Dibattista, 24, who summers on the island every year. "He's young -- a breath of fresh air after that old fogey Bush."

Emerging just before 9 a.m. after lounging for a day and attending a closed evening party, the president went to Farm Neck club, one of two golf courses on the island. He looked dapper, wearing a shiny purple golf shirt, purple golf pants, white shoes, a white glove and a white Panama hat.

Among those golfing with the president were presidential confidant Vernon Jordan and Deputy Attorney General Webb Hubbell.

Mr. Jordan's tee shot went directly behind a tree, but the president invited his companion to take another shot by saying gently, "You gotta get a good shot on the first tee, Vernon." Mr. Jordan's second shot was even worse, but, face drawn, he dared a third shot and -- with the crowd of 100 or so islanders holding a collective breath -- Mr. Clinton's friend hit the ball long and true down the fairway.

"Yessss!" the president exclaimed.

The president's first shot drifted a bit to the left, but he hit it a long way, and he smiled as the crowd applauded.

As he walked to his cart, the president gave a status report. "I didn't do anything yesterday," he said. "It was great. Read a book. Slept. It's been a long time."

At the 10th hole onlookers were allowed to watch the president hit his tee shot. At the 14th tee, hundreds of Vineyard residents and visitors lined the highway for a glimpse of the president.

As he played, Mr. Clinton's regular weekend radio address was broadcast. In it he stepped up his campaign for health care reform, saying comprehensive reform was essential to the country's well-being and urging all Americans to rally behind his drive to revamp a "broken system."

With his economic package now law, Mr. Clinton said, Americans "must take the next step."

"We must reform our health care system so that you and every American will be assured not only of economic security, but the ** security of knowing that health care is always there for you."

Until yesterday, Mr. Clinton has generally been very chary about allowing the news media to observe his golf game. But after an impromptu lesson from golf legend Jack Nicklaus last week in Vail, Colo., the president was emboldened, aides said.

The traveling corps of journalists, short of news as they are on most presidential vacations, apparently appreciated the access to the president. On the 13th hole, a Clinton shot bounded through thick rough and appeared to the president to be hopelessly lost.

But when he came looking for his ball, Mr. Clinton found it, miraculously, at the feet of photographers.

"This is my ball?" the president asked delightedly. "All right!"

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