BY HOLING A 40-INCH PAR PUTT on the first hole of a sudden-death playoff, Dwight Eisenhower conquered his putting demons to upset top seed John F. Kennedy on Sunday in the Presidents Golf Championship (PGC) at Augusta National Golf Club. It was a redemptive stroke for Ike, who had three-putted the 18th hole to allow Kennedy to even the match and send it to extra holes.
“I thought I had lost it on the low side,” Eisenhower said of the match-clinching putt, “but it caught the edge and fell in, thankfully.”
JFK bunkered his approach on the 10th, the first playoff hole. The 35th president left his long bunker shot well short and his uphill 18-foot par putt stopped inches shy of the hole. Ike played his third shot from the depression in front of the sloping green, a nifty pitch and run that rolled to within throw-up range for the general, who backed away twice before nervously jabbing his Titleist into the cup.
How Ike Prevailed
Eisenhower was clearly the underdog, and many on hand were shocked that the match had gotten away from the youthful, athletic Kennedy, who had dominated his opponents in earlier matches.
Theories abounded. JFK was overconfident. He was tired. His chronically bad back ached from too much golf in recent days. Or, as one Kennedy aide suggested with a wink, JFK was distracted by the many attractive spectators in the large gallery.
Perhaps the most reasonable explanation for Eisenhower’s upset victory was that the old general knew the ground better than his opponent. A longtime member, Ike had recorded more than 100 rounds at Augusta National. The former Commander of Allied Forces knew his way around the former tree nursery. He also knew his own strengths and weaknesses, as well as those of his opponent, and he put that knowledge to work.
“In match play, I really felt like I had a chance against him,” Eisenhower said, “especially here.”
Kennedy shrugged off the defeat. “That’s golf,” he said. “What can you expect? Ike had a good day. He knows where to hit it around this place.”
Onlookers knew better. Under his smooth veneer, JFK was furious that the rival he had labeled “duffer-in-chief” and once called “that old asshole” had bested him. Sometimes the wrong man wins, Kennedy thought, whether in politics or golf.
Ike thought the same thing, and was glad it didn’t happen on Sunday.
#2 Eisenhower defeats #1 Kennedy, 1-up (19 holes)
#1 Kennedy defeats #13 Nixon, 10 and 8
#2 Eisenhower defeats #3 Ford, 3 and 1
#1 Kennedy defeats #8 Obama, (match score not disclosed)
#13 Nixon defeats #5 George H.W. Bush, 1-up
#2 Eisenhower defeats #7 Clinton, 9 and 7
#3 Ford defeats #6 George W. Bush, 4 and 3
#1 Kennedy defeats #16 Grant, 10 and 8
#8 Obama defeats #9 Reagan, 1-up
#5 George H.W. Bush defeats #12 Wilson, 4 and 2
#13 Nixon defeats #4 Roosevelt, 2 and 1
#6 George W. Bush defeats #11 Taft, 5 and 4
#3 Ford defeats #14 Johnson, 6 and 5
#7 Clinton defeats #10 Harding, 1-up
#2 Eisenhower defeats #15 Coolidge, 9 and 7
Special thanks to New York Times investigative reporter and bestselling author Don Van Natta for his expert commentary as the guest golf analyst. No one is better qualified. Don't miss your last chance to enter the free drawing (at above right) for an autographed copy of Don's book on America's golfing presidents, First Off the Tee.
−The Armchair Golfer