Advice to Ryder golfers who would snub Clinton

MIKE ROYKO

August 30, 1993|By MIKE ROYKO

A fine flap is brewing because some of our finest professional golfers don't want to visit the White House and meet President Clinton.

They are members of the Ryder Cup team, which will represent this country against the best European players. Being on that team means they are the very best of our many great players.

And it has become kind of a tradition for Ryder team members to go to the White House, shake hands with the president, pose for pictures, have some grub and maybe make a date for a round.

But according to Golf World magazine, most of the players on the team want to snub Clinton.

One of them says he won't go because his father was in Vietnam and he doesn't want to shake hands with a draft dodger.

Another was quoted as saying: "It would be an honor to meet the president but it would be hypocritical. I don't know what we would talk about. We are examples of people who work hard and make a lot of money, and he wants to take it away and give it to people who don't give a damn."

Well, this is the sort of thing that can really get people hot under the collar. I'm sure many readers remember the public uproar that erupted when Michael Jordan snubbed President Bush's White House invitation after the Bulls won their first championship.

So when James Warren reported on the story of the threat of another snub in Thursday's Chicago Tribune, he was swamped with angry phone calls.

Some accused Warren of being a liberal pinko because he appeared critical of the golfers. The callers are probably rich, Republican, low-handicap players. Warren said one of them sounded like Dan Quayle, but he couldn't be sure.

Others, probably real hackers or maybe bowlers, said that regardless of how these golfers feel about Clinton, they should ,, show respect for the office and shake his hand like good Americans.

And many said they had little sympathy for the pro golfer who resented having his taxes raised because most top players are so wealthy that they can use a new ball every third or fourth hole, the wastrels.

This is one of those issues in which there is no middle ground. But as someone who always tries to avoid emotional extremes, I will try to look at both sides.

On the one hand, I can understand the feelings of the golfers.

It might be uncomfortable if some of them said:

"It is an honor to be on this team representing our country, but I have to be honest, Mr. President, I am not giddy about shaking the hand that signed the law that will require me to give you and Dan Rostenkowski 40 percent of my earnings to fritter away in order to get yourselves re-elected.

"Yes, Mr. President, I realize that I earn large sums of money. But let me tell you how pro golf works. If I don't play well, I don't get paid. I'm not like some basketball or baseball player who can loaf on the bench or in the dugout and still draw a paycheck."

Or another golfer might say: "A pleasure to meet you, Mr. President. Can I ask you a question? My dad served in Nam. Said the chow wasn't too great. How was the cooking over in Oxford, England?"

On the other hand, he is the president. As such, he deserves common courtesy, if not their admiration and respect.

And I look to my own experience at this sort of thing.

I had a private chat with Richard Nixon when he was president. Although he was not one of my heroes, and he thought my columns were awful, we both faked it and shook hands and smiled. I think he smiled. Maybe it was a snarl. But so what? He didn't bite.

And I once spent part of an evening chatting with then-Vice President Spiro Agnew. He told me that my columns about him were disgusting. I told him that I would cut off my hand before I would vote for him. Those formalities out of the way, we had a few Scotches, got loose and discovered that we disliked many of the same people.

So my advice to these golf pros is to go to the White House, smile, shake hands and maybe give the president a golf tip. Something like: "I saw your swing on TV. Have you thought of taking up shuffleboard?"

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