The row President Bill Clinton recently created when he called
out to his ball after an errant shot, "Don't go too far right!
Sit down, Alice!" is a sad commentary on the state of journalism
in the U.S. American reporters may be able to decipher the
arcane language of the Taxpayer Relief Act with aplomb, but if
Tony Blair, Britain's prime minister, had blurted out a plea to
Alice, one could wager that the British press--even the pesky
tabloids--would not have turned the remark into a national
incident. After all, every duffer in the U.K. knows who Alice
is, and she is not, as Clinton's deputy press secretary, Barry
Toiv, attempted to explain, the President's onetime budget
director Alice Rivlin.
No, Mr. Clinton was definitely not thinking about Ms. Rivlin
when he uttered his now famous command in Martha's Vineyard. Nor
was he being horribly politically incorrect, as many among the
American press corps suspected. I know this for a simple reason:
I am Alice. Or more precisely, Alliss.
My surname entered the lexicon of golf several decades ago, but
not because of the brilliance of my game--though I did play on
eight European Ryder Cup teams. My name became famous for
something that happened at the 1963 Ryder Cup at East Lake
Country Club in Atlanta, during my singles match against Arnold
Palmer. I beat him, one up, but not before I yanked a three-foot
putt along the way and someone snidely called out, "Nice putt,
I didn't say the words myself, and didn't hear who did, but they
were certainly said and now are part of the lingua franca of
golf. The BBC, for whom I now do golf commentary, played a large
part in burning the phrase into the public consciousness. I was
never renowned for my putting and therefore was an easy--and
frequent--target for the many comedy programs on the Beeb, where
great humor was found in such knee-slappers as "That girl Alliss
sure hits it a long way."
My feeling, though, is that Alliss is a very good name, and Mr.
Clinton should feel no need to apologize for calling his ball
Alliss, or Alice, if you will. All the Allisses, and Alices,
that I have met are wonderful people, and quite formidable.
For 25 years the license plate on my Bentley has read PUT 3, in
deference to my horrible putting. However, I'm thinking of
changing to something a bit more clever. How does RIVLIN sound?
Alliss, 10-15-5 in the Ryder Cup, is an ABC and BBC golf analyst.