In 1993, I played in the AT&T Pro-Am at Pebble Beach with my dad. We made the cut in the team event and were paired on Sunday with Hale Irwin, who had made the weekend as an individual. Hale had played the team event with President George H. W. Bush, who had just left office a few weeks earlier.
We were standing on the 13th tee at Pebble Beach when three large black sedans cruised down the cart path toward us. My dad and I had no idea what was happening. Then President and Barbara Bush stepped out with the Secret Service. I’d never met them before. On that very hole, my father made a 45-footer for a net birdie. Barbara Bush hugged him and said, ‘You’re now my favorite golfer I’ve ever seen.’ It was the highlight of my dad’s life.
That was my introduction to the Bush family.
Fast-forward two years to the 1995 Ryder Cup at Oak Hill. We played a practice round Monday when no spectators are allowed on the grounds. On Tuesday they opened the gates and there were 40,000 people. The first tee was a gauntlet, with people everywhere waving American flags and chanting “USA! USA!” It was Peter Jacobsen, Corey Pavin, Loren Roberts and me. We finally get to the first tee and Byron Nelson and President Bush were standing there waving American flags.
Out of nowhere a voice of God says, ‘First to play representing the United States of America, Brad Faxon.’ To this day, it’s the most nervous I’ve ever been on the golf course.
I got to know President Bush quite well later. In 2002, he was the honoree at the Francis Ouimet Scholarship dinner. My 94-year-old grandfather was being honored that night too. At the event I gave the President a signed Scotty Cameron putter and he invited my wife, Dory, and I to come to the Bush family home in Kennebunkport. We said we’d love to go, but we didn’t really think it would ever happen. Who thinks an invitation like that will ever actually come to pass?
He said, ‘I’ll have my people get in touch with your people.’ I still laugh thinking about that, because I didn’t have any people.
But the next day I received a call from a blocked number. A voice says, ‘Please hold for the President.’ He comes on and says, ‘Hey Brad, its George Bush.’ He invited us to Maine a couple of weeks later.
That began more than 10 consecutive years of going there, spending nights at their home, having dinner, playing golf. We would have putting contests on his synthetic green. He had so many putters! He wouldn’t use the one I gave him because he said he didn’t want to embarrass me.
He used to joke that when he was in the White House people were always giving him 6-footers. ‘That’s good, Mr. President! Pick it up!’ But when he was out of office it was, ‘Putt it, George!’
Everyone knows he loved not only playing golf, but playing fast. When we played he would give four balls to every foursome we played through, so they all had a ball adorned with the presidential seal. After a while, his Depression-era values got the better of him and he’d hand the foursome one ball and say, ‘You guys play for this on the next hole!’
Those visits to Kennebunkport really were no-frills fun. He had screw-top wine! Nothing was out of the ordinary, except his boat. He had a 42-foot Fountain, which he made sure was fast enough to outrun the Secret Service. Late in life he was still a thrill seeker, just as he was as a young Navy pilot.
One memory from Kennebunkport sticks in my mind when I think about President Bush now. He told us to bring our daughter Charlotte, and he couldn’t have been nicer to her. One day we were served lobster salad, which the President loved. In fancy houses, people might have had some great wine with it. He had whole milk and he even had a small milk moustache. I remember looking at him and thinking, ‘This is America.’
It was a great honor for us to stay with someone we loved as a person. He was funny, a great storyteller and in my opinion the most qualified man ever to be elected president.
Earlier this year I saw George W. Bush at the Walker Cup in Los Angeles.
“My parents loved you and Dory,” he said. We chatted for a long time about 41. “My father is a decent man,” 43 said. “The most decent man I’ve ever met.”
I thought that was a wonderful way to describe anyone nearing the end of a long, noble life. For all of his achievements, George H.W. Bush was humble. He was self-deprecating. And yes, he was decent. We’ll miss him.