This is a piece about a semi-skilled golfer who made the world a better place.
In about 1990, the golfer and some fellow competitors and their caddies walked past the old slave cemetery to the last green on what was then the final hole on the Seaside Course on St. Simons.
As we were putting out, my caddie, Frank Adams, a far better player than any of us, pulled me aside.
Frank looked at my three-foot putt and said, “Do you really want to take $5 from the president of the United States? I looked at George H. W. Bush, who had a little do-you-dare smile on his face.
The putt was dead straight. I had hit a million like it. I stroked it and somehow it missed wide right. Bush said, “I’m sorry.” But he wasn’t. He was a tough competitor who loved to win. He also was one of the most courteous men I have ever met.
Frank Adams insists to this day that I missed intentionally. But I will never tell whether I did or didn’t.
What I will tell is that when we played other times at other places, His character was always the same: Courteous, thoughtful, interesting. And exasperated with his own short game.
Bush invited the victorious U.S. Walker Cup team — made up mostly of young amateur men — in 1991. He invited all of them and, ahem their captain, to the practice green on the White House lawn.
The guys hit a few short chips and somebody handed a wedge to the president. He took an awkward little swing and the results were not splendid.
He sent me a photograph of the gathering with this note: “Reg, OK, I hit it twice. Try not to laugh. George.”
At Elie Golf Club in St. Andrews, Scotland, our group arrived at the 15th tee to find 30 or 40 Scots awaiting us, pencils and pads in hand for the president’s autograph. He struggled with a decision but found a compromise. OK, he said, “I don’t want to hold the group up, but I will be happy to sign if you will walk along with us.”
It was always like that. He could be tough with Saddam Hussein, but he wouldn’t be discourteous to plain folks along the way.
When he invited himself to play golf at Caves Valley Golf Club outside Baltimore, he didn’t realize it was Lady Diana’s and my wedding day. He called back to cancel, but we wouldn’t hear of it.
So he brought along Arnold Palmer and former Attorney General Griffin Bell. He autographed the wedding invitation and wished us this: “I hope that your lives together be full of eagles and one-putt greens.”
When his body was brought to Washington this week, the nation rolled out its very best in his memory. The music was solemn but grand, the memories were both painfully and powerfully told. For the most part, people put down their partisanship for a few hours.
They remembered that the ramps and tapered sidewalks came from his Americans with Disabilities Act. They recalled that he increased quotas for immigrants while vowing to export more foreigners to secure his “war on drugs.”
Unification of the two Germanys took place during his watch, and NATO got itself organized into a force to resist Russian aggression. When he was criticized for not showing more emotion at the fall of the Berlin Wall, he replied, “I’m not a very emotional kind of guy.”
But he really was an emotional guy. He just hated extremes. When he said he wanted a “kinder and gentler” nation, he meant it. He hated campaigning because of his New England reticence.
His parents thought it outlandish to wear one’s emotions on one’s sleeve, and he agreed with them.
He would have been pleased that none of the eulogies referred to the current president by name. Nonetheless, the speakers could hardly avoid oblique references to current behavior in the White House.
Ultimately, those listening to the speakers at the funeral would have to think about the contrasts of the 41st and 45th presidents.
The great biographer Jon Meacham said of Bush: “His life code was: Tell the truth. Don’t blame people. Be strong. Do your best. Try hard. Stay the course. And that was, and is, the most American of creeds.”
There it was, for all to see, the contrast of another time and now.
Bush himself had forecast some of the difference twenty -something years ago: “Moods come and go, but greatness endures.”