I had the rare treat of spending a sunny, unseasonably warm January day walking the storied fairways of Blackhall, a Robert Trent Jones masterpiece in Old Lyme, Connecticut with Senator Christopher J. Dodd. Herewith, the senior senator from Connecticut and Democratic candidate for President shares some thoughts on Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of the little white ball.
The following is my reconstruction of our conversation on the course that day. What’s in his bag…
• King Cobra 454 Comp 10.5 degree driver with a Mitsubishi rayon regular flex shaft
• Taylor Made Burner 3, 5, 7 woods
• Callaway Big Bertha Irons, medium graphite shafts
• Odyssey Tri Hot #2 putter
• Handicap…Sixteen GM: Senator, you took up golf later in life than most folks, what got you into the game?
DODD: I always had a curiosity and desire to take up golf but my limited free time was devoted to being on the water, I’ve been sailing most of my life. In 1993, after repeated urgings by various colleagues and an invitation by then President Bill Clinton, I shelved my inhibitions and decided to give it a go. If the president invited me to play polo, I would have gone. GM: Did you start with lessons?
DODD: I never had a lesson, and it shows. I read, and keep in my bag, Harvey Pennick’s ‘Little Red Book’. I think it’s an indispensable tool for golfers of all skill levels. I also observed other golfer’s swing mechanics, tempo, etc… I listened to every tip and pointer offered by people I played with. I played often with President Clinton back then. He was an incredibly patient and instructive golf buddy! GM: I’m noticing so far that you’re pretty darn straight off the tee. Is that your strong suit?
DODD: Well, they seem to be going straighter today than usual, but yeah, I feel pretty comfortable with the driver. I would like to be longer off the tee, though. Too often I find myself on most par fours reaching for a mid to long iron for my second shot. I heard the old line once, “eighty percent of your strength for one hundred percent of your length.” That finesse aspect of the game is sometimes tough for me to get the hang of. I played some football as a boy and always enjoyed sports. I catch myself trying to put too much muscle into my swing. GM: Have you tried a hybrid?
DODD: You mean one of those new ‘rescue’ clubs? No, but I’ve been meaning to. GM: …here, try this. (I hand him my Nickent twenty degree). Drop your hands down and through the ball and let the club head do the work. (The Senator proceeds to hit a two hundred yard rope with a slight draw.)
DODD: (handing the Nickent back to me) Hmmm…that felt good. GM: I’m almost tempted to let you keep it; you hit it better than I do! I understand you had major knee surgery last year. How has that affected your swing?
DODD: I had a total replacement of my right knee and you know what? It’s actually helped my game! I find myself finishing with a much better weight transfer to my left side. GM: Pretty extreme lengths to go to fix your swing…
DODD: (laughing) I never thought about it that way but I guess you’re right! GM: What are some of the courses you enjoy down around Washington D.C.?
DODD: I’ve spent a lot of time at the Army Navy Club in Arlington, VA, and lost my share of balls at Congressional. Unfortunately, a lot of what passes for golf in and around the beltway has simply become a way to hob nob and politick. I like nothing better than to catch a weekend flight back to Connecticut and walk nine or eighteen by myself or with my brother, Nick. I’ve done some of my best thinking alone on a golf course.
I’m at a point in life, however, where the time it takes for a good round of golf has become a luxury. My duties in the Senate and my time with Jackie and the kids (Grace, 5 and Christina, 2) come first.
Some years back I had the good fortune of purchasing a cottage in Ireland. Perhaps when I’m an old, old man I’ll be able to roam the seaside links courses to my heart’s content. GM: Ever have a hole in one?
DODD: One time…eleventh hole at Connemara in Ireland. It felt pretty good, I have to admit. How about you, ever get one? GM: Only in the clown’s nose. What’s the craziest thing that ever happened to you on a golf course?
DODD: President Clinton used to enjoy playing a course in Arlington, VA where a number of fairways are bounded by multi story apartment and condo complexes.
Of course, this would give the Secret Service detail fits what with all the balconies, rooftops, and other vantage points. On one such hole I badly mis-hit a greenside chip shot and skulled the ball on a line directly into the flagstick making a sound like a rifle shot. The next thing I knew, the Secret Service agent closest to me was on one knee in a defensive posture. When he realized where the sound came from he fixed me with a stony gaze, breathed a sigh of relief and politely asked the President and me to pick up the pace!
The gathering dusk is closing in fast as we walk to the par three ninth hole. Two doe and a fat, full racked buck are grazing on the tee box. Seemingly more irritated than alarmed, they amble to the side of the fairway and watch us. It’s as if they’re saying ‘C’mon, hit already so we can get back to dinner!’
DODD: Oh, swell…we’ve got a gallery!
The Senator over clubs and his tee ball lands in the rear greenside bunker. He is faced with a downhill lie out of very wet sand. He picks the ball clean, rolls it to eight feet of the cup and makes his putt for a very nifty little par. GM: Great way to end the day, Senator! This has been a lot of fun; I want to thank you for taking the time to play today.
DODD: The pleasure was all mine. GM: You strike the ball really very well.
DODD: I just got lucky today.
There was more to his response than simple gentlemanly humility. As we walked together through the parking lot I glanced over and saw in the fading light the half smile and the Irish twinkle in his eye, a look that has been cast toward the likes of Castro and Chavez, Assad and Anan. The staredown of the confident, consummate riverboat gambler.
I knew at that moment that I was quite glad and relieved that I hadn’t suggested a small wager on this day’s round.