WASHINGTON. – Regardless of how they might have voted in the past two presidential elections, members of the 2013 U.S. Presidents Cup team wandered wide-eyed through the White House on Tuesday evening.
If you’ve been to one formal function at a golf tournament, you’ve been to them all. Typically they’re drawn-out, cringe-inducing events that involve cocktails and milling around before hearing a speech that starts with a lame joke and then proceeds to thank sponsors and volunteers. The assembled players, who have been stealing glimpses at their watches the whole time, make for the doors as soon as their obligations are fulfilled.
Tuesday night was different because Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els, Tiger Woods and the rest of the golfers were not the stars. The White House and President Barack Obama were the headliners.
Some players, including Woods, had visited the White House before. Woods had said earlier in the day at his news conference at Congressional Country Club in nearby Bethesda, Md., site of this week’s Quicken Loans National, that he had spent time with Obama in the Oval Office. But for most, this was a first, and they soaked it in.
“Hey, Sneds, come over here and knock on the window,” Webb Simpson said to Brandt Snedeker, the 2012 FedEx Cup champion. Snedeker thought he was being set up for embarrassment. Was a team of Navy SEALs going to spring out from behind a ficus if he did?
Summoning courage usually reserved for the tee shot on the 12th hole at Augusta National, he finally walked over and gingerly put a finger lightly on the glass. Then he gently tapped it with a knuckle.
“Man, there ain’t nothin’ that’s getting through there,” he said with a smile after realizing the thickness of the glass.
A few minutes later I asked Jason Day and Marc Leishman if the Australian prime minister’s house in their homeland was anything like this.
“No way,” Day said.
Leishman, without cracking a smile, said, “If you tap on a window at the prime minister’s house, you’ll put your fingers through it.”
Everyone walked with his cellphone out, snapping one photo after another of presidential portraits (Reagan’s was the most popular), china and pieces of Americana. It was as if walking through the doorway in the South Entrance had transformed a group of the world’s best golfers into tourists.
Woods, who is making his PGA Tour return this week at the tournament that benefits the Tiger Woods Foundation, posed for pictures with kids who are involved in The First Tee program. Then, he talked about golf-course design and history with dignitaries from South Korea (site of the next Presidents Cup, in 2015). Woods also congratulated K.J. Choi for playing well last weekend at the Travelers Championship as Woods’ girlfriend, skier Lindsey Vonn, stole a seat so she could to rest her surgically-repaired left knee.
Hunter and Kandi Mahan took turns carrying their infant daughter, Zoe, while they admired portraits of former first ladies. Mickelson and his wife, Amy, strolled the hallways with their kids. Matt and Sybi Kuchar’s 6-year-old son, Cameron, got one compliment after another on his seersucker suit.
“Now, last year was the second time that I’ve been honorary chairman of the Presidents Cup,” Obama said during the brief program in the East Room. “The United States has won both times. I’m just sayin’.”
The host then thanked Mickelson for giving him a bunker tip and complimented Jordan Spieth on purchasing his first suit.
The cliché goes that if you get asked to go to the White House, you go to the White House. Golf brought the players and their families to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue on Tuesday night, and regardless of their politics, none of them probably ever will forget the experience.