John Nance Garner, who served under FDR, once said the job of vice-president is "not worth a pitcher of warm spit." This would accurately describe most vice-presidential golf games, as well. Richard Nixon once called golf "a waste of time," and, given the way he played it, he was probably right. Spiro Agnew was a rotten golfer. Gerald Ford's game did more for the helmet industry than Skylab, and George Bush, once a vice-president himself, slashes at golf balls the way Jimmy Carter slashed at attack rabbits.
But say what you will about our current Vice-President, his golf game is 100% silk. You have to hand it to J. Danforth Quayle: His golf swing is sublime, and he looks good in golf clothes besides. You could never have said that about Hubert Humphrey. Quayle was born to golf. In a suit, he looks as if he should be in golf clothes. He is, without a doubt, the best golfer this country has ever elected on a national ticket, and I should know because he punched mine last week.
Quayle scheduled a Friday round of golf at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md., and invited SI managing editor Mark Mulvoy, Congressional head pro Kent Cayce and me to play with him. O.K., O.K., we asked him to play with us and he fit us in. We weren't sure what to expect. Golf magazine had ripped the Vice-President as cold and aloof on the golf course, all work and no play. But when Quayle showed up on the first tee of the 6,878-yard Blue Course at Congressional, he was smiling and friendly as he handed out gifts—V.P. visors and V.P. golf balls.
We agreed to play a $2 Nassau, plus a dollar for greenies and birdies. It would be Quayle (now a six handicapper) and Mulvoy (a five) against Cayce (scratch) and the 12 here at the keyboard. No strokes given, none asked. The Quayle hunt was on.
July 15, 1990
Four players, two caddies, SI photographer Jacqueline Duvoisin and her assistant, and a squadron of Secret Service men—some ahead, some behind, some next to us, some in golf carts, some on foot, all in sunglasses and stone faces—attacked the Congressional course, which had just been reopened after major redesign work by Rees Jones.
One imposing agent stood 10 yards behind Quayle at all times, but the Veep didn't seem crowded by his bodyguards. "It doesn't bother me until I'm trying to be alone with my family," he said at one point. "Then it bothers me."
Quayle hit balls for only a few minutes, took a couple of putts and was ready. He stepped up in blue golf pants (a tad short), a white golf shirt with a Kapalua logo, white shoes and no hat. His blue-and-beige lightweight bag bore the vice-presidential seal, as did the head covers on his Jumbo Ozaki "J's Professional Weapon" metal woods (do American golf club makers know about this?). Quayle launched his tee shot at least 280 yards down the middle.
As for me, I stepped up with my thought for the day, one that I'd been preparing for two weeks: Don't whiff. In front of this small crowd, I hit a 280-yard smother-toe hook dead into the trees and was, quite naturally, elated.
By the turn, I was aware of three things: 1) Quayle can really strike the ball—he hit seven of the first nine greens. 2) He can be a butcher with the putter—he three-putted three of the first eight greens and missed an easy birdie chance from eight feet on the 6th hole. By all rights, his 41 should have been a 37 or 38. 3) If Quayle is cold and aloof, I'm Greta Garbo.
Quayle was so friendly that you almost forgot whom you were dealing with. For instance, when he two-putted the 9th, I gave him my best schoolboy imitation of a 75,000-seat stadium gone bonkers. He bowed at the waist, as though he had just negotiated a Middle East peace treaty. At the par-5 15th, Quayle hit a very high, very short drive—it would be his only bad drive of the day—and the poor caddie had to come back to his ball after he had trudged up a long hill in the 90° heat.
"It's kind of embarrassing when you make the caddie come back, isn't it, Mr. Vice-President?" I said, laughing. He laughed too, but said, mock-wounded, "I don't find that one darn bit funny, not one darn bit."
On another hole, Mulvoy left a long putt on the lip and I used the old standby, "That's a South American putt: one more revolution." Quayle howled at that one and said, "Hey, no more revolutions, please. We've got things going our way down there right now." Then he placed his ball down and said, "On second thought, I could go for one more revolution: Cuba."
During an abysmal stretch when I felt like I was hitting the ball with a garden hoe, the Vice-President said to me, "Hit another one. And this time hit it completely with your left side." It was a great tip and I played the last four holes in two over par. "Stick with me," Quayle said afterward. I told him to check the back bumper of the limo on the way home.
Quayle was so congenial that he suffered the most ignoble moment of all without a wince. One caddie, a chunky fellow with an unruly Afro, green shorts, orange shirt, gray socks and sneakers, took the Vice-President aside and gave him a tip. "No move head," he said with a heavy Spanish accent, pantomiming a putt. "You moving head. Too much."
Quayle: "Am I? Thanks."
Only in America.
There was something else I discovered right away. I used to think there was nothing the Secret Service was afraid of, but now there is one thing that terrifies them. Me. I was hitting my driver so badly that the agents protecting Quayle began inching their carts backward as I would step to the tee. By the time I was done waggling, they had melted into the rows of trees flanking the fairway.
Quayle, meanwhile, was playing holes the way the little diagram in the caddie book shows. For the day, he would hit 11 fairways and 12 greens but make only one putt of any length. "I may three-putt every hole from here on in," he groaned at one point. "I don't know. I've only had this problem the last 10 years."
If I were Quayle, I'd blame my putting on politics. Like him or not, he's in a ticklish position. When Quayle plays golf, it proves he's "shallow." Yet when Bush plays horseshoes, golf and tennis, and goes fishing all in one day, he's "active." Once, Quayle made a hole in one at No. 10 at Pine Valley, yet couldn't crow about it. "When it went in, I just said, 'Oh, God, don't let this get out.' Every time we go on the road, they watch me," Quayle says. "They can't wait to catch me playing. So I never play on the road."
Even at home in Washington, he cannot play as much as he wants. "Are you kidding?" he says. "If they'd let me, I'd play every day. Wouldn't you?" As it is, Quayle plays once or twice a week, which is no way to treat a six.
Even when he does play, Quayle gets pinched. If he plays well, his detractors say, "All he does is play golf." If he plays poorly, they say, "I thought you were supposed to be good." So Quayle plays when he can and practices now and then with his kids, Tucker, 15, Benjamin, 13, and Corinne, 11.
"I like it when he comes out here in the evenings with his family," says Cayce. "He's just out there playing with his kids, laughing and having a great time. He looks like an ordinary father. Nobody's on his back, not the press, not the world, nobody."
Quayle's father was not a golfer, but his mother was. When Quayle was seven, his family moved to the 11th hole at Paradise Valley Country Club in Scottsdale, Ariz. Young Dan thought nothing of playing 45 holes in a day, popping salt tablets as he went to beat the heat. The Quayles were rich, but the future V.P. was not above being a caddie, and once he even toted Judy Kimball's bag in an LPGA tournament at his home course.
"We were one shot out of the lead on the third day when we came to my hole, my backyard, the 11th," he recalls. "And I finally decided to say something. She had hit a perfect drive. I said, 'Look, I live on this hole. There's no way you can get a five-wood to the green. You have to take a four-wood.' Well, she wanted to hit a five-wood, but I convinced her. So she snaps two four-woods out of bounds, makes nine, and I never open my mouth as a caddie again."
Quayle came together as a golfer at Huntington (Ind.) High School and once shot a 68 at that city's La Fontaine Golf Club. He played No. 1 at DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind., in the late '60s. His team never lost, thanks, he says, to the Tigers' home course, Windy Hills. "A real dog track," Quayle remembers. "It was only nine holes, and you could hit it straight down the middle and have an impossible sidehill lie. Some holes you could drive and some you had to lay up, and it was almost impossible to tell which was which. Guys would hit perfect drives then hit their second shot O.B. We loved it, they hated it. Every time, they'd leave yelling, 'We're never coming back to this place again!' "
Did Quayle ever think of becoming a golf pro and playing the Tour? "I was lucky," he says. "I wasn't good enough to give it serious thought." So he went for the next-best thing—politics.
Still, golf is Quayle's passion. During the 1988 campaign, when his name was mentioned in connection with Paula Parkinson, a lobbyist who told of having had sex with several congressmen, Marilyn Quayle, the candidate's wife, said, "Anyone who knows Dan Quayle knows that given a choice between golf and sex, he will choose golf every time." (Parkinson subsequently said that she had never been involved with Quayle.)
Who's to say that the way a man plays golf reflects how he plays life, but Quayle does not punch out for the day after 16 holes, even if he's losing. By the 18th hole Cayce and I had Quayle and Mulvoy down-and-out in four bets. Mind you, that's a lot like Al Attles saying he and Wilt Chamberlain combined for 117 points one night. Wilt had 100, Attles had 17. Cayce could have used his ball alone on 17 holes. He needed mine only once.
But even at that, Quayle was still scrapping. On the 18th, a gorgeous, mid-iron par-3 over a lake, both he and I hit our iron shots only eight or so feet from the pin. Mine looked closer, so I was going to be awarded the $1 greenie. Quayle paced it off just the same, and shrugged. Then after a minute, as though he couldn't believe it had happened, he asked me to pace it off. I did and I won by half a Foot-Joy. From the expression on Quayle's face, you would have thought El Salvador had fallen to the rebels.
"He'll never stop coming at you," says Cayce, who teaches Quayle and plays with him quite often.
In the end, Quayle had a nine-over-par 81. I shot an 89. Playing match, with full handicaps, I would have lost to the V.P. 3 and 2. Mulvoy shot 79 and Cayce 73. As we enjoyed a few beers (Quayle had one), the Vice-President seemed like no one more fancy than the accountant you took to the Sheboygan men's club member-guest last year. He paid his bet fast, then reached for the check. Suddenly, his pencil went apoplectic. "What am I doing?" he said. "Winners buy!" And he threw the check at Cayce.
With so much good feeling all around, we even got to know the Secret Service agents on a first-name basis. As we were leaving, we shook their hands as if they were old college friends. "O.K., Frank. Loved it. Charlie, let's do it again."
And if the Vice-President has any more tips for me, I'm all ears.