Obama and Boehner Prepare to Face Off on Golf Course

John Boehner

Representatives for both men say that they will find plenty of time to talk deficit reductions and spending cuts when they tee off.

Oh, please. This game is not about debt ceiling negotiations. It is a chance for Mr. Boehner, an accomplished golfer, to take on the most powerful man in the world; for the competitive Mr. Obama, who has been working hard to improve his game, to measure himself against his political nemesis.

Mr. Obama is not taking any more chances than necessary. He is bringing along a partner: Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., who, at least by the reckoning of Golf Digest, is a better golfer than his boss and Mr. Boehner.

Golf Digest estimates Mr. Obama’s handicap — perhaps generously, in the view of some golfers — at 17, meaning, theoretically, that the president would typically play 18 holes in the high 80s to low 90s. The magazine put Mr. Biden’s handicap at 6.3 and Mr. Boehner’s at 7.9.

Golf has long been considered a window into character, or at least personality. Both President Bushes would speed-golf through 18 holes as if they had to beat the clock, not the course, leaving little time for introspection. President Bill Clinton had a reputation for being somewhat loose with the rules.

Mr. Obama’s golf game is characterized by long, slow rounds, with a lot of time hunting for balls in the woods. The president, say people who have golfed with him, is meticulous, studied and determined to improve his game through practice, practice and more practice. He has lodged more than 70 rounds of golf since taking office, most of them at the golf course at Andrews Air Force Base.

“It’s a way for him to relax, where he can barely see the Secret Service agents who are around him all the time,” one administration official said.

The president is private about a lot of things he does during the day; he is fiercely private about his golf game, and rarely allows reporters anywhere near him when he’s on a course.

People who have played with Mr. Obama say that he is very good at getting out of sand traps. But of course, that might be construed as a very backhanded compliment; the only way you get good at getting out of sand traps is if you get into a lot of sand traps to begin with.

Mr. Boehner is a different story.

“He likes the game,” said Arthur Mason, a vice president of the lobbying firm Cassidy and Associates who has played with Mr. Boehner. “He’s competitive, but in a cordial way.”

Mr. Boehner typically shoots in the low to mid-80s (Mr. Obama is in the low to mid-90s), but recently posted a round of 75, one source familiar with his game said. He swings right-handed, but putts left-handed.

Mr. Boehner has not been sounding like someone who plans to cut the president much slack. “I was watching one of these cable programs — it must have been Saturday morning, when somebody said, ‘Well, you know, if the president wants strokes from Boehner, Boehner ought to say to the president: ‘Mr. President, you can have all the strokes you want. It’ll just cost you a trillion dollars per stroke,’ ” Mr. Boehner told a Rotary Club audience last week in Middletown, Ohio. “I thought it was a brilliant idea.”

Mr. Boehner is friends with the golf legend Jack Nicklaus. He has also played with Tiger Woods in a pro-am tournament two years ago at the Congressional Country Club outside Washington.

Scared yet, Mr. President?

Don’t be. You’ve got Biden.

Mr. Biden, 68, did not take up golf until he was 49, recovering from two operations for an aneurism, and his doctor told him that one of the few things he could do for exercise would be to hit golf balls. A friend of his would drive him to a restaurant in Oxford, Pa., that sat on a golf course. It was there that Mr. Biden began developing his game.

Mr. Biden now has such a low handicap — his idea of stress release is to hit buckets of golf balls at a driving range — that he and his aides have been a little worried that it could put him at a disadvantage on Saturday.

So twice this week, Mr. Biden has made nighttime visits to the public course at Hains Point, on the Potomac River in southwest Washington, to practice.

And then, there is the last — and most mysterious — member of Saturday’s foursome: Gov. John R. Kasich of Ohio, a Republican.

“Kasich is the wild card,” Mr. Mason said. A solid afternoon’s worth of efforts to elicit tidbits about his golf game elicited nothing.

The one thing that is known: Mr. Kasich did build his house, in Delaware County, Ohio, next to a golf course.

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