Iraq Prompts President Bush to Give Up Golf

President Bush doesn't play as much golf as he used to. In an interview with Politico this week, Mr. Bush said he gave up the game because of the war in Iraq. The president said he didn't want families of dead soldiers to see him enjoying himself on the links. Noah Adams talks with Don Van Natta of The New York Times, author of First Off the Tee, a book about the history of golf and the presidency.

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NOAH ADAMS, host

This week, President Bush gave an interview to politico.com's Mike Allen. And at one point, Allen noted that the president had not been playing golf in recent years and asked him whether that was related to the war in Iraq.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: Yeah, it really is. I don't want some mom whose son may have recently died to see the commander-in-chief playing golf. I feel I owe it to the families to be as, you know, to be in solidarity as best as I can with them. And I think, you know, playing golf during a war just sends the wrong signal.

ADAMS: We wanted to pass that sentimental along to somebody who knows a lot about presidents and golf, Don Van Natta of The New York Times. He's the author of "First Off the Tee," a book about presidents and golf.

Mr. Van Natta, any president here for - a president giving up golf during war time?

Mr. DON VAN NATTA (Author, "First Off the Tee: Presidential Hackers, Duffers, and Cheaters from Taft to Bush"): Surprisingly, no. The closest any president came was President Woodrow Wilson shortly after World War I gave it up for a short time and was concerned about how it would look to his constituents during war. But he had some medical issues, and his doctor advised him that he needed to get back out on the links to relieve the stress. And his wife agreed that that was a good idea, so President Wilson got back out there and played, and surprisingly, didn't take much criticism for it.

ADAMS: And I think with President Eisenhower, people sort of enjoyed seeing him play golf that he was in charged in a way.

Mr. VAN NATTA: He did. And he played during World War II before he was president. Of course, no one made golf cooler, no president than Dwight Eisenhower, and people did enjoy it. And this was never a concern of Dwight Eisenhower's during the Korean War.

ADAMS: Now, back to President Bush. Could this decision not to play golf have anything to do with this particular moment from early in his presidency?

Pres. BUSH: We must stop the terror. I call upon all nations to do everything they can to stop these terrorist killers. Thank you. Now, watch this drive.

(Soundbite of a golf club)

ADAMS: Now, watch this drive. That was 2002. Don Van Natta, that's been played a million times on television and it's still quite a remarkable piece of video.

Mr. VAN NATTA: It is. It was a moment President Bush surely would like to have back and the - whether or not his decision has something do with that, I could only guess, but that will go down in presidential golf histories, maybe one of the worst moments of all time.

Mr. VAN NATTA: I recall that Bill Clinton style of golf was, you know, I get to repeat everything and the putts are (unintelligible) all of them. In terms of how he performs on the golf course, when he does play, how's President Bush?

Mr. VAN NATTA: President Bush plays a very fast style of golf and he's also a big risk taker. He thinks nothing of taking out a three-wood when he's got about 207-yard shot to the green and booming the ball over a lake. And people can say that some decisions he's made in office reflect that style of play.

ADAMS: Don Van Natta of The New York Times, author of the book "First Off the Tee: A History of Golf and The Presidency." Thank you, sir.

Mr. VAN NATTA: Thank you very much.

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