Jovial Bush Graciously Accepts
By Ken Klavon, USGA
Houston - With self-deprecating humor, former U.S. President
George H.W. Bush on Saturday night wondered why anyone
"in their right mind" would expect him to receive
the USGA's highest award.
"As a former president," Bush quipped, "people
are kinder and gentler."
Bush was recipient of the 53rd Bob Jones Award. The honor,
the USGA's highest, is given in recognition of
distinguished sportsmanship in golf. It seeks to recognize a
person who emulates Jones' spirit, his personal
qualities, his attitude toward the game and its players.
The 83-year-old avid golfer, slowed by recent back surgery,
kept the masses laughing throughout his 11-minute acceptance
"As for golf talent, truth be told, my father and
grandfather were far more blessed with talent," he said.
"Somehow when it came to me there was a genetic power
|Former President George Bush, left,
sharing the stage with USGA President Jim Vernon, gleams
as he receives his plaque for winning the Bob Jones Award
Saturday. (John Mummert/USGA)|
Bush came from a lineage of golf blood. His father, Prescott
Bush, served as the USGA president in 1935. And his
grandfather, Herbert Walker, was instrumental in starting the
Walker Cup Match, a biennial competition that pits a squad of
amateur players from the United States of America versus a
team from Great Britain & Ireland. Walker also donated
the prestigious Walker Cup Trophy.
He began his evening mingling with a who's who of
attendees that included PGA Commissioner Tim Finchem, PGA of
America CEO Joe Steranka, NFL Hall of Famer Dan Dierdorf,
former college football coach R.C. Slocum and golf course
designers Rees and Robert Trent Jones Jr., among others.
The 41st U.S. president limped in with the assistance of a
cane. Former First Lady Barbara Bush stayed by his side prior
An 18-minute video tribute highlighted Bush's love for
golf and included comments from his presidential son, George
Bush, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods. Prior to the video,
newly appointed USGA vice president Jay Rains noted his many
achievements in life that culminated with his ascendance to
the Oval Office.
"Ultimately, unfortunately, tonight's recipient
never achieved the lofty heights of the USGA that his father
and grandfather attained, which led to a lifetime of
desperate efforts to try and compensate for his failure to
become the president of the USGA," said Rains to
Bush, cognizant of his family's place in the game, has
always been enthusiastic in his support. "We Bushes and
Walkers have always been drawn to the spirit of the game,
both on and off the course," he said.
Bush has traveled worldwide to either watch or play the game,
and has attended countless competitions, including Walker and
Ryder Cups. During his administration (he was elected in 1988
and defeated by Bill Clinton in 1992), he invited a
victorious USA Walker Cup squad to the White House. He had
such a ball that he ignored aides' pleas when the
get-together ran over the allotted time.
A fast player, Bush is known in close circles as a man on the
move. It wasn't uncommon for him to play a round in two
hours, 15 minutes. Shortly before The First Tee program
gained traction - it was founded in 1997 - Bush was named as
an honoree to help champion its cause. The First Tee helps to
introduce the game to youngsters and to those who are
underprivileged. The USGA is the program's largest cash
Bush cited The First Tee program as well as the many services
the USGA provides. Still, mindful of the award, he
couldn't help but wonder what made him so deserving. He
told a story about how politics can do "mystical
things," underscoring his point with an anecdote about
former president John F. Kennedy. He said that Kennedy called
politics astonishing in that it afforded him the opportunity
to go from being a lieutenant under Gen. Douglas MacArthur to
commander-in-chief in 14 years, likening the sequence to
going from the junior varsity at Harvard to being selected as
an honoree member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
He later turned his attention to the award's meaning. He
told the story of how his grandfather once chastised Bob
Jones for losing his temper during a USGA event, promising
him he'd never play in another one if it happened again.
That was before his grandfather told Jones he had the chance
to become one of the greatest players ever.
"I'm honored to receive this award because of a man
everyone in the game of golf holds in the highest
regard," said Bush.
"Bob Jones remains the golf standard by which every
other mortal tries their luck down the fairway is
Moments later he shook the hand of newly appointed USGA
President Jim Vernon and seemed surprised when he told he
could keep the plaque. He genuinely thanked Vernon, heading
into the Texas night with it cradled like a football.
KenKlavonis the USGA's Editor of New Media. E-mail him with
questions or comments at email@example.com.