Hate to be Rude: A president plays through

Former President George W. Bush (left) and Golfweek's Jeff Rude.

Former President George W. Bush (left) and Golfweek's Jeff Rude.

DALLAS – Your correspondent was preparing for another round of slapping at dimpled spheres Monday when introduced to SMU football coach June Jones on the putting green at the spectacular Dallas National Golf Club. During the exchange of pleasantries, Jones was asked with whom he was playing.

“The president,” he said.

President of the golf club? Of his school? Booster club? Anybody for the chamber of commerce?

Before he could be asked, the coach said, “George W.”

“Oh, that president,” your surprised field reporter replied.

Hey, it’s not name-dropping when you’re simply answering a question.

Jones, a long-hitting and 6-handicap golfer, was wearing slacks and golf shoes. Mindful that wasn’t his normal attire, I asked, “June, don’t you normally play barefoot?”

“Yeah,” he said, “but I’m playing with the president today, so I thought I’d dress up and wear shoes.”

Jones’ buddies get the Tom Sawyer-Huck Finn look. George W. Bush, the 43rd president of the United States, gets the FootJoy treatment.

Bush had a little style going himself. His cap reflected an exclusive club. It read “43” in the front. On his feet were those cool-looking, Fred Couples-style black Ecco shoes. They sport red soles and look like sneakers.

“If your game is no good, at least you’ve got to look good,” 43 said as his foursome played through my group on the fifth hole.

Playing with Dubya appears to be three things: Fun, fast and safe.

He’s a 14-15 handicap who likes speed golf. Like father, like son in more ways than the Oval Office. On this day, he took about 3 1/2 hours. That included playing through and taking pictures with a couple of groups.

“If it was just me and him, we’d play in 2:15,” Jones said later after his first round with Bush. “It’s step up and hit it.”

Bush shot 92 and Jones 78 on a 6,862-yard course that has a 73.5 rating and 140 slope. A member at Dallas National, Brookhollow and Preston Trail, Bush tries to play 3-4 mornings a week when he’s home in the Big D.

Playing doesn’t mean sneaking out with one other guy. Playing means taking along an entourage of Secret Service men. He had security details ahead and behind and, of course, with him. On this day, the Bush caravan featured eight or nine carts.

“I’ve never been safer,” Jones cracked.

And I’ve never had eight carts play through before.

“Thanks for letting us play through,” Bush said both as he drove up and as he drove off. “I promise we won’t hold you up.”

Three things struck me as he went through on the par-3 fifth: How short, fit and informally personable he is.

A jogger and bike rider, Bush is listed at 5-11 but looked 5-9, tops. “I thought he’d be taller, too,” Jones said.

And he was nothing if not friendly, stopping for photographs with each member of our group.

“It was a great experience playing with him,” Jones said. “He’s a wonderful guy, the kind of guy you’d like to hang out with. He’s a giving guy. He introduced himself to you guys and  another group. He asked us questions about our families and our lives and he wanted to know more about his caddie.”

During one posed shot I took of Bush and a friend, I said, “Looks good.” He playfully shot back, “No it doesn’t. You can’t B.S. a B.S.er.”

After the photo, I advised him to chip in his ball for 2 from the right of the green. “That’s not going to happen,” he said, leaving me to believe he should hire me as his lay psychologist.

After he scuffed a chip just short of the green, he looked at me and said, “There’s mud on my ball. Can I wipe it off?”

I had been introduced to him as a Golfweek writer. Now I was playing rules official.

“I suppose you have some sort of presidential privilege,” I said.

Given that unofficial permission, he picked up his ball, cleaned it, looked over and said, “I’m not going to read about this in the magazine, am I?”

I smiled but didn’t answer. I’ll answer now: No, not in the magazine.

On the Web site.

On another hole, after Jones hit a bunker shot, Bush picked up a rake and and walked toward the coach, as if he were going to rake the trap.

“How about that?” Jones said later. “You’ve gotta be kidding me. I told him, ‘Give me that; you’re not raking it.’ ”

Bush and Jones know each other through SMU. The George W. Bush Presidential Center, which includes a library and museum, is expected to open at SMU in 2013. Since moving to Dallas after leaving the White House in January 2009, Bush has attended a couple of SMU football games and practices. Plus he has worked out in the football weight room.

Little wonder then that Bush said of Jones as they left the fifth green, “He’s going to lead SMU to the NCAA national championship.”

Hours later, my performance on the front nine struck me as fitting. I shot 43.

The score. Not the man.

Maybe next time, his dad will play through.

• • •

Jeff Rude’s “I Hate To Be Rude” column appears on Golfweek.com on Wednesday, the same day as his video show of the same name.

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