History, golf and finding the sweet spot

Thom Hanrahan Brownwood Bulletin Editor

One of my favorite pasttimes is golfing.

I was reminded of that last night when I returned home from the paper and happened to notice my golf clubs in the corner of the living room and possessing a sad and neglected look.

I don’t know how something inanimate can look sad and neglected, but that is what I saw.

Despite the mostly mild Central Texas weather, I haven’t been able to break away and golf yet. Not once since I arrived in November.

And that needs to change, because I really do some good thinking on the golf course.

Golf is a good game because it is so deliberate. While the considerate player does not slow down others, the game offers time for reflection not offered by a game of say, pick-up basketball.

And since I am someone who has a bachelor’s degree in history, I also appreciate all the little ways it has intersected directly and indirectly with some of history’s most noteable figures.

Each year when The Masters golf tournament rolled around, I would enjoy seeing the beautiful images of Augusta National. And I would get a good chuckle when the networks would show the “Eisenhower Tree.”

Ike loved to golf. And, while he may have helped win a world war and ascended to the White House, he couldn’t seem to play a round of golf at Augusta without hitting that darn tree with his golf shots.

But that isn’t the reason the tree got its name. If it were, there would be water hazards and bunkers all over the United States, Caribbean and Mexico bearing my name.

No, the tree got its name because the president and Augusta member came to a club meeting in 1956 and made the suggestion that it be cut down.

He may have been the most powerful man in the free world, but he wasn’t the most powerful one in that room. The club president found him out of order and the tree remained to guard the 17th fairway.

From then on, it was the Eisenhower Tree.

John F. Kennedy might not have ever been elected president if his passion for golf had been well-known.

Kennedy ramped up for a run at the presidency during the latter part of Eisenhower’s second term. And since Ike was well-known as a lover of the game, Kennedy and his campaign tried to portray Eisenhower as elitist and out of touch. They would suggest that the president cared more about his golf handicap than the day-to-day problems of ordinary American citizens.

What if it then became public knowlege that Kennedy also loved the game passionately as well?

In 1960, Kennedy was playing a round of golf at Cypress Point in California. On the par-3 13th hole, the future president hit a nearly perfect 5-iron tee shot. It landed on the green and made a beeline for the hole.

“Go in! Go in!” his playing partners were screaming.

Kennedy, however, knew a hole-in-one would be a disaster for his career.

According to several sources, including a story on the PGA website, Kennedy watched the scene play out with a look of terror on his face.

When the ball came to rest six inches shy of the hole, Kennedy reportedly said to his playing partner, “You’re yelling for that damn ball to go in and I’m watching a promising political career coming to an end.

“If that ball had gone in, in less than an hour the word would be out that another golfer was trying to get in the White House.”

Golf is also a good reminder of how life works. If you make a mistake, it is usually not a disaster. It is how you play the next shot — how you recover that is the key.

It teaches the concept of risk/reward.

It trains people in the ways of honesty, fair play and courtesy.

And it teaches us that we sometimes must grind through.

I have nothing to suggest that Winston Churchill was a golfer or even that he liked the game. He did once say that “Golf is a game whose aim is to hit a very small ball into an ever smaller hole, with weapons singularly ill-designed for the purpose.”

But my favorite Churchill expression is one he used often during the tough days of World War II.

“Keep buggering on.”

He would end his phone calls and conversations with “KBO.” It means don’t give up — keep fighting on. It is a sentiment I consider often and is something we need to all do. In golf and in life.

Thom Hanrahan is the editor of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears on Sundays. He may be reached by e-mail at