Wednesday, May 20, 2009
It was an evening fit for a king – or make that a former president – and so in strode three of the most high-profile names in the world of professional golf. Fred Couples, Davis Love, Phil Mickelson were front and center May 6 to pay tribute to their favorite golfer, George Herbert Walker Bush, who received the PGA Tour’s lifetime achievement award.
“Wait a minute. Did my invitation get lost in the mail?” asked Mark Plummer, who wrapped that question in his vintage laugh, warm and hearty. He was on the phone from his home in Maine, where winter has given way to gentler weather, which means it shouldn’t be much longer before that state’s two most passionate golfers meet up.
Bush and Plummer.
If ever there’s a tandem that speaks to the glory of golf’s ability to bring folks together, this is it. Pretty surreal to be mentioned so entwined with a U.S. president, isn’t it Mr. Plummer?
“Absolutely,” he said. “The rounds with him are the most enjoyable rounds of the year.”
A legend of sorts in Maine, where he has won the state amateur title 13 times, Plummer is a gregarious chap who has to pinch himself once in a while to prove it’s not a dream. But the simple truth is, he’s a regular guy whose great passion and skill for golf have enabled him to run in pretty high-end company.
The common denominator to this unique friendship is, of course, Maine – specifically, Kennebunkport on the southern coast of the state where the Bush family has spent summers for years. The former president’s golf course of choice is a true classic, Cape Arundel GC, and annually in the early 1990s, Bush would agree to play with some local golfers for a magazine story.
“I guess it was ‘92 or ‘93 when we first played,” Plummer said. “We hit it off pretty well.”
If you know Plummer – who first gained notoriety as Tiger Woods’s colorful semifinal opponent at the 1995 U.S. Amateur – that’s easy to believe, because a more genuine person may not exist. And Bush? Well, he may have hosted kings and queens and rubbed shoulders with the most powerful people in the world, “but he acts so ordinary,” Plummer said. “He’s so easy to be around.”
That sentiment is shared by the likes of Couples, Love, and Mickelson, as well as Brad Faxon, David Toms, and Justin Leonard - all of them having been hosted at one time or another by the Bush family in Kennebunkport. So passionate are the emotions these men have for the former president, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that they circle five dates on their calendars – the four major championships and that weekend in Maine.
Throw into that circle of marquee golf talent the inimitable Plummer, but don’t chuckle. He fits right in. Credit his five-star personality and a golf game to match, a combination that keeps those invitations coming and strengthens his friendship with Bush.
His father, Prescott Bush, having at one time held the course record, the former president has always loved to challenge his esteemed guests to go low, low, low. In that respect, Bush had a great friend in Plummer, who owned the best score, a 7-under 62 at the cozy Walter Travis design that is roughly 5,900 yards from the tips.
“But there’s nothing he likes better than to see the big guys go for the record,” said Plummer, who wasn’t there the day Couples matched his 62. But he was when Faxon stood over a 3-foot putt at the 18th hole. While he lined it up, Bush gathered everyone he could to come watch, announcing what was at stake – a course-record 61 – and Faxon never faced such pressure.
“I think it’s the only 3-footer he’s ever missed,” Plummer said.
The trio of 62s became a footnote last summer when Mickelson posted a 60, and no surprise, Plummer was there.
He quite often is, of course, when the storylines involve Arundel and Bush. That’s a tribute to his great nature, but Plummer concedes that on more than one occasion he has had to remind himself just who it is he’s playing with.
“One day I noticed his golf ball had FLFW stamped on it,” Plummer said. “I said, ‘What’s that?’ He said, ‘Former leader of the free world.’ ”
Plummer laughed the day Bush relayed that answer and he laughed just as hard as he recalled it over the phone, no matter that the story is a few years old.
“Every once in a while, I remind myself, ‘Hey, he was the big guy.’ ”
Still is, too, as evidenced by the passionate appearances by Couples, Love, and Mickelson to help fete Bush as the PGA Tour’s ninth winner of a lifetime achievement honor. Even in their major championship wins, those golfers never shined any better than in their tributes to the former president.
Plummer will get a chance to add his congratulations later this summer.