The Hacker: How Nixon learned about rough justice

One of the most heartening sights for a hacker over the Christmas holidays were pictures of the President of the United States bashing his way around a golf course in Hawaii. I'm not sure he deserves to be renamed Bahacker Obama but I understand that his game is not quite up to scratch and he has been taking lessons.

There's no shame in that. Golf is a democratic game in that it pays no respect to a person's rank in life. One or two may be envious of him playing in the sun while we have to cope with frozen balls but there's not a hacker in the world – and there are millions of us – who would not welcome him into our ranks.

We'd feel a certain amount of pride that one of the mightiest men on earth shares our struggles. And if golf, however badly played, can bring pleasure and respite to such a problem-laden mind, it doesn't make the rest of us look so daft.

There is an affinity between golf and the White House. Dwight D Eisenhower was very keen. There's a tree named after him on the 17th at Augusta. He kept hitting it and wanted it chopped down but not even Presidents get their own way on golf courses. George Washington would've done it himself, of course.

The disgraced Richard Nixon was another who played the game but didn't leave a good impression in golf either after he was allegedly seen moving his ball in the deep rough. In American golfing slang, a terrible lie is called a "Nixon".

Arnold Palmer has played with most of the Presidents since the war, including Nixon, and when invited to Nixon's home he was asked his opinion about how the US should end the Vietnam war. He muttered something about not pussyfooting about and "going for the green". I'm not sure if they bombed Cambodia as a result, but as valuable as a pro's advice is when it comes to your swing it shouldn't carry weight in real life.

Of all the Presidents he played with Palmer rated John F Kennedy and Bill Clinton as having the best swings. Clinton, he said, "was the best ball-striker of them all". That may not be saying a lot. You don't hear much about their scoring prowess and Gerald Ford had spectators diving for cover at a pro-am. But at least they played; there's something comforting about a leader prepared to risk public humiliation among the hackers.

There's no such example among our lot. Clinton once gave some golf lessons to Tony Blair but George W Bush, another golfer, didn't seem to carry on the missionary work, which is a pity. It might have given them something else to talk about.

There's no trace of a golfer's twitch in our current top politicians but the game used to feature highly in the life of Prime Ministers. The Parliamentary Golf Society was formed in 1891 and Arthur Balfour won its tournament three times. Andrew Bonar Law also won it but David Lloyd George, a keen golfer, never managed to do so.

Willie Whitelaw, who played off scratch, was the last leading politician to win in 1976. The society is still going strong but you never hear of it. Some hackers are more shy than others.

Tip of the week

No 35: standing for power

It is very important to realise that you must be set up properly if you're going to drive the ball long distances. Starting from the ground up, your width of stance must be wider than your shoulders. A wide stance will give good balance and also restrict the hip-turn creating a bigger X-Factor – the difference between the degrees the shoulders turn compared to the hips. The greater the difference, the more power you can achieve.

For an average amateur, the hips should turn 45 degrees and the shoulders 90 degrees. Make sure the ball is set well forward in the stance (towards the left foot) with 70 per cent of weight on the right foot. Make sure to look over your left shoulder to see the target. This will have the shoulders square to encourage an inside take-away. Lift your chin off your chest for a good shoulder turn. You are set for power.

Simon Iliffe, Head Professional, Purley Downs GC, Surrey

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