Ex-President George H.W. Bush in intensive care

From left, Greg Norman, Fred Couples and former President George H.W. Bush during the 2009 Presidents Cup.

HOUSTON – Former President George H.W. Bush, a World Golf Hall of Fame inductee, is being treated in the intensive care unit at a Houston hospital after suffering "a series of setbacks," including a stubborn fever, his spokesman said.

In a brief email Wednesday, Jim McGrath, Bush's spokesman in Houston, said the 88-year-old former leader had been admitted Sunday to the ICU at Methodist Hospital. McGrath said Bush, the oldest living former U.S. president, was alert and talking with medical staff.

He said doctors are cautiously optimistic about Bush's treatment and that the former president "remains in guarded condition." He said Bush was surrounded by family.

Early Thursday, McGrath told The Associated Press that he had no new information on Bush's condition and that he would release another statement "when events warrant it."

Bush has been hospitalized since Nov. 23, when he was admitted for a lingering cough related to bronchitis after having been in and out of the hospital for complications related to the illness.

A fever that kept Bush in the hospital over Christmas had gotten worse and doctors had put him on a liquids-only diet Wednesday following "a series of setbacks."

"It's an elevated fever, so it's actually gone up in the last day or two," McGrath told The Associated Press. "It's a stubborn fever that won't go away."

But he said the cough that initially brought Bush to the hospital had improved.

Early in 2012, it was reported that Bush had been diagnosed with lower-body Parkinsonism, which causes instability from the waist down. Consequently, he mostly uses a wheelchair.

Bush was inducted into golf's shrine in 2011 in the Lifetime Achievement category. Bush's roots in the game run deep: His father and grandfather were former presidents of the U.S. Golf Association. George Herbert Walker, Bush's maternal grandfather, created the Walker Cup, a biennial match between the top amateurs in the U.S. and U.K. Bush's father, Prescott Bush, headed the USGA before being elected to the U.S. Senate and was a frequent golf companion of former President Dwight D. Eisenhower's.

The 41st president amassed a number of golf awards in addition to his Hall of Fame induction: PGA of America's 1997 Distinguished Service Award, the USGA's 2008 Bob Jones Award and the PGA Tour's Lifetime Achievement Award in 2009. In 1996, he served as honorary chairman of the inaugural Presidents Cup, a biennial match pitting U.S. and International professionals.

However, Bush's enduring contribution to the game might be his commitment to fast play.

"You put your track shoes on when you're playing with him," said Hale Irwin, a Hall of Fame member, in an interview with the hall.

Added Arnold Palmer, another hall member: "I am a great believer in moving pretty fast around a golf course. Well, President Bush made sure that happened."

Bush was visited on Christmas by his wife, Barbara, his son, Neil, and Neil's wife, Maria, and a grandson, McGrath said. Bush's daughter, Dorothy, was expected to arrive from Bethesda, Md. The 41st president also has been visited twice by his sons, George W. Bush, the 43rd president, and Jeb Bush, the former governor of Florida.

Bush and his wife live in Houston during the winter and spend their summers at a home in Kennebunkport, Maine.

Bush, elected president in 1988, was a naval aviator in World War II – at one point the youngest in the Navy – and was shot down over the Pacific. He achieved recognition in retirement for skydiving on at least three of his birthdays since leaving the White House in early 1993.

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