On Martha's Vineyard, Obama seeks favor from the golf gods

OAK BLUFFS, Massachusetts Sun Aug 18, 2013 8:36am IST

U.S. President Barack Obama (L) bike rides with his oldest daughter, Malia, while at the Manuel F. Correllus State Forest in West Tisbury on their vacation in Martha's Vineyard, August 16, 2013. REUTERS/Larry Downing

U.S. President Barack Obama (L) bike rides with his oldest daughter, Malia, while at the Manuel F. Correllus State Forest in West Tisbury on their vacation in Martha's Vineyard, August 16, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Larry Downing

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OAK BLUFFS, Massachusetts (Reuters) - Teeing off for the fifth time on his Martha's Vineyard vacation, President Barack Obama attempted yet again on Saturday to persuade the golf gods to pass favor on his game.

He is the latest in a long line of presidents, from Dwight Eisenhower to George H.W. Bush to Bill Clinton, who have loved the game but found it a difficult sport to master.

Obama does not talk much publicly about his golf game, but those familiar with it say he shoots in the 90s, which is fairly typical for the average golfer on courses where par is 72 or thereabouts.

He usually plays with friends or staff and sees his several hours on the golf course as a time to relax and enjoy the sport, and not get caught up in talking a lot about politics. He does in fact keep score, and as an avid fan of the game, he watches golf on television on occasion.

His playing partners during five rounds at Martha's Vineyard golf courses have included his usual posse, like aide Marvin Nicholson and White House chef Sam Kass, along with some friends from the business world. A frequent partner is U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk.

On Saturday, Obama's foursome included Kirk and comedian Larry David, the creator of "Seinfeld" and "Curb Your Enthusiasm."

David moaned about the state of his own game to Golf Channel's David Feherty recently.

For all the time he has spent struggling on the golf course, David told Feherty, "I could be speaking foreign languages. I could be a concert pianist."

Back in February, Obama teed it up with Tiger Woods while on a golfing weekend in Florida. To get ready for the round, he took some lessons from Woods' former swing coach, Butch Harmon.

Harmon told CNN's "Living Golf" program that he was able to tinker with Obama's swing to the point that he could hit a drive 250 yards (229 metres), which is good compared to pros whose tee shots average 300 yards (274 metres).

"When he gets out of office in another three years and he has a chance to play, he could probably get down to a 10 or 12 handicap," said Harmon.

On weekends, Obama typically plays courses at Andrews Air Force Base and the Army's Fort Belvoir base, facilities that are easily secured in the Washington area. Saturday's round was his 138th as president, according to CBS News' Mark Knoller, who keeps track of such things.

Reporters are typically not allowed to watch, although the White House did allow the press pool to photograph the left-handed Obama on the first green at Farm Neck Golf Club last Sunday.

Obama has said in interviews that his time on the golf course allows him to feel almost normal by taking him out of his cloistered security bubble.

"It's a game that I keep on thinking I should be good at, and somehow the ball goes this way and that way and never goes straight," Obama said in a Russian media interview in 2009.

Before golf, Obama and his family got in a little beach time.

Obama, wife Michelle and daughters Sasha and Malia spent the sunny morning at Kolberg Beach in Edgartown, a day after watching a spectacular fireworks show in Oak Bluffs and dining with senior adviser Valerie Jarrett.

Obama is to return to Washington on Sunday, closing out an eight-day vacation on the island.

(Reporting by Steve Holland; Editing by Eric Walsh and Vicki Allen)

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