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French Golfers, Poetry and the British Open Championship

In 1999 Jean Van de Velde, a French golfer, came to the 18th hole on the final day of the Open Championship with a three shot lead and (as most of you probably know) scored a triple bogey ending up tied with two other golfers. In the ensuing playoff, he and Justin Leonard lost to the Scotsman Paul Lawrie.

French golfers at the Open had seen better days. One hundred and two years earlier Arnaud Massy won the event beating the three British greats of that time, Harry Vardon, J.H.Taylor and James Braid among others. In the 1922 Open Championship, Jean Gassiat, a contemporary of Massy’s, came in seventh. A second contemporary, Baptiste Bomboudiac, was the subject of a golf poem written by Robert K Risk and first published in the English magazine Punch in April 1908.

A story in the Daily Paper, sometime in early 1908, included the following quote regarding the Open Championship to be played later that year at the Prestwick Golf Club:

“France will be well to the front at the Golf Championship. Massy is already at the top of the tree, and there are great possibilities in Gassiat and Baptiste Bomboudiac.”

Risk, maybe the best golf poet of his time, responded to this quote with the following poem.

A TIP FOR PRESTWICK

Some prate of Braid and Taylor,
And eke of Harry V.
(Admittedly a nailer
At driving from the tee):
But of all the golfing heroes
Whom common punters back,
There’s none to me so dear as
Baptiste Bomboudiac.

A Gassiat or Massy
May do distinguished things
With iron and with brassy—
But his the name that rings
Daylong through all my fancies,
Nightlong my sleep I lack,
Through sizing up your chances,
Baptiste Bomboudiac.

To drive and pitch and hole out,
With skill satanical,
Wears an opponent’s soul out,
And sends him to the wall;
The “influence” called “moral”
Will ward off such attack,
Awarding thee the laurel
Baptiste Bomboudiac.

We need not be affrighted
To meet a White or Jones,
Whose Christian names are cited
In quite familiar tones;
But diffidence comes o’er us,
When driven to attack
Polysyllab-sonorous
Baptiste Bomboudiac.

For the record, James Braid won the 1908 Open and Arnaud Massy was tenth. Neither Gassiat or Bomboudiac are listed among those with four round scores.

One more thing. If anyone knows more about Baptiste Bomboudiac please leave a comment. A Google search only produced two references. He deserves better.

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Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Putt

Golf_Improve_Swing_Joke (1)

If you want to improve your putting, you might consider studying the form of a great putter such as Brad Faxon. When writing poetry I often look for inspiration to the great poets such as Wallace Stevens. Steven was a major American modernist poet who was born in 1879 and lived through the first half of the 20th century. He was renowned for his philosophic poetry that examined the relationship between an individual’s thoughts and feelings and the surrounding environment. One of his most famous poems was titled “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird.” (You will find it here: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/174503.)  Using this poem as a starting point for its format and introspection, I have tried to explore the mysteries of putting with my poem, “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Putt.” (If you want to see how I made use of Steven’s poem to write mine, you might try toggling between the two.)

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Putt
(With apologies to Wallace Stevens)

I
Among the hills and valleys of the green
The only objects moving
Were the eyes of the golfer
Surveying his putt.

II
He was of more than one mind
Like the just finished foursome
Now in the clubhouse bar.

III
Standing behind the ball looking
For the line, he then crouched
For a second look
Reading from his putting book.

IV
A golfer and his putter
Are one
But a golfer and his putter and his putt
Are one
Only if the ball goes in.

V
I do not know which to prefer
The beauty of a perfectly struck putt
Or the beauty of a green at sunset
The ball dropping
Or just after.

VI
The golfer moved around
Behind the pin,
The shadow of a blackbird
Crossing his own shadow
As he took up a new position
From which to trace a path
Ball to hole.

VII
Fellow golfer
Why do you imagine a birdie?
Don’t you see the
Difficulties of the putt?
Par is always a good score.

VIII
I know of noble efforts
And of rhythmic swings
But I know too
Not to include all that I know
In preparing for my next putt.

IX
When the ball stopped on the green
It only crossed over the edge
Of the larger circle.

X
At the sight of an unputtable ball
Mired in tall grass beyond a green
The errant golfer
Would like to cry out sharply
And often does.

XI
He rides from green to green
In a golf cart
Often fearful that
What putting skills he has
Will disappear along the path
Between holes.

XII
The putt is rolling off line
His head must have moved.

XIII
Look at a putt thirteen ways,
And you can still miss it.
Or with a quick look
It might go in.

This poem appears in my book, Golf Course of Rhymes – Links between Golf and Poetry Through the Ages.

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Golf Poetry from the Majors

On occasion I have been inspired to write a poem about a Major event. These have previously been published in Posts on this Blog, but I thought that for Masters week I would put them together. These poems are also included in my new Ebook, If Only I Could Play That Hole Again which is available on Amazon for the Kindle and Kindle app.

Starting with last year’s Masters here is how I saw Bubba’s memorable sweeping hook:

♦Bubba’s Master’s Shot

About B.W. let’s be candid
Fortunate that he’s left handed
If he had hit a slice instead
“Our usual shot,” all we’d have said.

Another Master shot that will always be remembered, is Tiger’s 2005 chip show on the 16th hole:

♦A Masters Chip for the Ages

From a difficult lie beyond
the steeply sloped sixteenth green

a steely-eyed Tiger sent his ball
to a spot far above the hole,

the ball coming crisply off his wedge,
flew low, bounced once

and rolled on a yard or two
until gravity took over,

causing it to turn sharply,
and start slowly down the slope

towards the hole, speeding up
then slowing again as it got closer.

“All of a sudden,” Tiger’s words,
“it looked really good.”

“How could it not go in?” and
when it stopped, a single turn short,

“How did it not go in?”,
“And all of a sudden it went in.”

It was as if Tiger’s will
had given gravity an assist.

“In your life,” the tower announcer’s voice,
“have you seen anything like that?”

While around him, the patrons’ roar
rose rocket-like, fueled by sheer wonder.

In July 2012, Na Yeon Choi won the U.S. Women’s Open by four shots over Amy Yang. As the fourth round began, Choi held a six shot lead. And at the turn, she still led Yang by five. Then it got interesting.
Again the newspapers and magazines have told the story of the last nine holes in straight forward prose. I thought it would be fun to re-cast this minor epic in a more traditional form.

♦Na Yeon Choi – U.S. Women’s Open Champion

She was cruising along with a five shot lead
And just nine more to play
But the ever-present golf gods
Had not yet had their say!

As she turned for home with a  big Open lead
Fans saw her name on the cup
Especially now with it down to a match
And she was the one five up.

But the golf gods knew the score as well
And on ten they went into action
Soon enough Na Yeon Choi
Was losing more than just traction.

Her drive went out and couldn’t be found
She was back on the tee for her third
When her putt finally sank she was up only two
But surprisingly undeterred.

A resolute Choi bounced right back
With a birdy on eleven
The golf gods were clearly hard at work
In the depths, then close to heaven.

The down and up would continue
From the next tee into high weeds
But a brilliant wedge put her ball on the green
And she holed with a perfect read.

On thirteen the gods gave one final scare
Her ball hit two rocks, au revoir
But dry it remained miraculously
Choi then made an up and down par.

In the end the golf gods seemed to remember
A dream from way way back
When Na Yeon first said “I just want to be there,”
While watching Se Ri Pak.

Accepting the cheers as she walked up the last,
Her win beyond a doubt
Standing where her hero had stood
She finally putted out.

“I’m here right now and I made it.” she said
After winning ─ though I would wager
The thought that was foremost in her mind —
Like Se Ri, I’ve won this Major.

You may remember at the 2009 British Open at Turnberry, Tom Watson needed a four on the final hole to win his sixth Open championship. Unfortunately he didn’t do it. Thus, he lost his chance to make history as the oldest golfer to win a major. He was 59 at the time. Shortly after, I wrote the following poem to pay tribute to Watson’s heroic but failed effort.

♦Watson At Turnberry – The 2009 Open

From the tee at eighteen
He looked down towards the home hole
Like a pitcher with a one run lead looks
Toward home plate needing one more out.

As he drove his ball
We knew what the magic number was.
When the camera showed a safe white speck
We exhaled in unison and counted one.

Now it was an eight iron to the green
Or was it a nine?
A question to be answered twice,
The first time by Watson alone.

He was thinking nine but hit the eight
And as we watched with growing anxiety
The ball bounced hard and rolled too far.
We held our breath and counted two.

Again a choice: to chip or putt.
“One of the best chippers of all time,”
The words of an old pro in the booth.
But the third stroke would be a putt.

From off the green the ball raced up
Then by the hole a good eight feet.
He said he had seen grain.
Down to one, we saw trouble.

Once more a putt to win the Open,
But this was not a kid with a dream,
This was a Champion Golfer five times over.
Yet now we feared the worst.

While he took two short practice strokes
We lost interest in counting.
And as the ball rolled weakly off his putter
We lost all hope as well.

“I made a lousy putt,” Watson’s words;
“Then it was one bad shot after another.”
A self-stated epitaph marked the close:
“The Old Fogy Almost Did It.”

And so the golf writers lost their story
To an illustrious sage from an earlier time.
It wouldn’t be about Watson winning – or losing,
But how he had played the Game.

In 1970 Doug Sander missed a short putt on the final hole at the British Open that cost him the Championship. Here is a reply,

♦An Open Putt Remembered

The putt was less than three feet long
Just how could anything go wrong?

For sure he knew the stakes were high
But could he really run it by?

Doug looked as cool as cool could be
His poise was there for all to see.

But as his putter made its sweep
And those who watched made not a peep.

The ball escaped its aimed-for goal
And did not end up in the hole.

The question was, how could he miss
An easy putt as short as this?

The answer—simple, known to all:
Pressure putts don’t always fall.

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For Golfers April is National (Golf) Poetry Month

April is National Poetry Month, but of course for golfers it’s National Golf Poetry Month. True, the Masters gets more attention in April, but we golfers should not lose sight of the fact that while the first Masters was played in 1934, the first poem that included a reference to golf was published in 1638!  Golf poetry was most popular in the early 20th century. The golf magazines of the time included golf poems in almost every issue. A number of golf poets such as Robert K Risk (one of the best)  also published books of their poetry.

As those of you know who follow this Blog, I have tried to revive interest in golf poetry through my Posts, of which this is number 150, and through my two books:

Golf Course Of Rhymes - Links Between Golf And Poetry Through The Ages          Final Briggs Cover for Vook ebook

Both are available on Amazon.com. If Only I Could Play That Hole Again is an eBook that is also available for Nook and the iPad. (For descriptions click in the header above)

I would like to mention two other  golf poetry books that are currently available on Amazon. The first is an eBook called Eighteen Holes and is written by Mike Ellwood. Mike describes the book as “a round of golf in poetry.” It consists of 18 poems with an additional on at the Nineteenth Hole. To quote Mike again, the poetry describes the “the drama, excitement and sheer fun of a round of golf.” The second is called Golf Sonnets and its author is James Long Hale. James describes his book as “A delightful collection of humorous sonnets and illustrations about the Game of Golf.”

With Mother’s Day and then Father’s Day not too far in the future, you might consider a golf poetry book. At least you will know that it will be their first!

I can’t write a Post without at least a few lines of poetry, so here are two four-liners.

THE YIPS PURE AND SIMPLE

You have the yips if you miss- hit your putts
Frequent attacks can drive you nuts
The yips occur when you’re not controlling
The direction or speed of the ball that you’re rolling.

CHANGING ODDS

Heard said that trees are nine-tenth air
If your ball gets over you hardly care;
But if it’s low and lost from view
It’s no more than even that your ball gets through.

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Golf Adjustments for More Distance

The TaylorMade R1 Driver

My father once wrote the following verse:

Laugh when you can
Cry when you must
Do as you plan
Plan to adjust.

(Philip S  White)

When he wrote these four lines I believe he thought of them as words to live by. Today they might also be the watch words of those who would have short hitters “Tee it Forward.” The verse would also appeal to TaylorMade and other makers of adjustable drivers.

Adjustable drivers were in the news this week when we learned that Ricky Fowler, Rory McIlroy and Lee Westwood all increased the lofts on their drivers to take advantage of high altitudes at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Tournament. More generally, adjustable drivers seem to be the answer to a club-fitters dream: one club, but in the extreme, multiple settings for loft, lie, face angle and the distribution of weights. In the case of TaylorMade’s new R1 driver, 168 combinations are possible.

Of course the idea behind “one club fits all” is more distance and accuracy.  According to TaylorMade,

“. . .  data from the company’s MATT club fitting systems across the country showed that 80 percent of golfers were playing the wrong loft in their drivers, and that 35 percent of them were 2 degrees or more away from their optimal loft.”

TaylorMade’s answer: the R1 driver along with a fitter. And to be fair, Callaway, Titleist, Nike, Ping, Cobra and others have their answers as well.

But there’s another option. I would bet that if TaylorMade had collected a different set of data, they would have found that 80 percent of golfers  were hitting their drivers from the wrong tee. That may be an exaggeration, but the truth is that many golfers among TaylorMade’s 80 percent are being penalized twice with regard to distance off the tee. And even golfers playing the optimal loft may be playing from the wrong tees.

So if your driver fits you but your drives just aren’t long enough, here is a verse for you,

I’m not buying an adjustable driver
No change in loft or lie for me;
But I’ll still get a lot more yardage
By moving up to a forward tee!

On the other hand, if you “plan to adjust,” then we need a modification,

I’m going to buy an adjustable driver
And have it fit just right for me;
Then I’ll extend the yardage gain
By moving up to a forward tee!

And if you’re Michael Phelps, the newest Golf Channel star, your verse might read,

I ‘ve already got my adjustable driver
And the Blues are the only tees for me
But I still want a lot more distance
So I signed up for Project Haney.

audio

A hundred years ago, golf magazines of those days such as Golf, The American Golfer and Golf Illustrated all included golf instruction articles and tips. They also regularly included golf poems. Today’s golf magazines include golf instruction articles and tips, but no poetry. Reading through the February 2013 issue of Golf Digest I was impressed with the large number of tips. I thought that some might be better remembered if they were presented in the form of a poem. Here’s what I came up with. (I have also noted the tipper.)

Some Tips from the February Issue of Golf Digest Magazine

Magazine tips
from Jan to December
But when you need one
will you remember?

When your driving’s erratic,
and you’re feeling uptight
Will you infer
that you’re timing’s not right?  (From Louis Oosthuizen)

When you need to recover,
Remember what’s true:
“It’s not just the recovery,
but where it leaves you?”      (Tom Watson)

When all putts go left
Will you recall
That you must set your eyes
Inside the ball?

And a tip to remember
Right out of the gate,
Putt aggressively
When the line’s straight.  (The last two from Sean Foley)

With your fairway woods
As you reverse your pivot
Extend your arms,
And take a small divot.  (Todd Anderson)

When the flag is back
And you align
“Bag your wedge”
And run a little 9. (Jim McLean)

Poetry might help you
Remember these tips
And not in this Issue,
Check for worn grips.

And a last tip from me
When you’re playing the game
Fun and enjoyment
Is where you should aim.

Leon S White, PhD

In a number of previous Posts I have suggested that you will have more fun with these poems by reciting them. With that in mind I am starting something new with this Post. If you click below, you can hear me recite this poem! If you have a moment let me know what you think.


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Golf Poetry for Fun and Discovery

 As I have written in other Posts, the primary purpose of this Blog and my two books (see Banner) is to offer today’s golfer enthusiasts the opportunity to have fun with and learn from poetry. For many of you “poetry” is on the other side of a literary out-of-bounds line. I’m trying to bring it back onto the fairway to give you a shot at it. That’s what this Blog and my two books are about.

In this first Post of 2013, I would like to begin by wishing you (who come to this Blog from more than 100 countries) a happy, healthy and peaceful New Year. And now I’d like to show you how one of my recent  searches for old golf poetry led to the discovery of a non-golf poem that includes well-known lines of inspiration.

In a previous post I included a poem from a book called The Golf Craze – Sketches and Rhymes published in Edinburgh and London in 1905. Between the Table of Contents and the first Chapter of the book, the author (John Hogben writing under the pseudonym Cleeke Shotte, Esq.) included the following verse by W. E. Henley:

“Out on the links, where the wind blows free,
And the surges gush, and the rounding brine
Wanders and sparkles, an air like wine
Fills the senses with pride and glee.”

When I find an old golf poem or verse, I often also try to determine the poet’s connection to the game. So I Goggled Henley’s name and found a very interesting Wikipedia entry.

William Ernest Henley (1849-1903) was an English poet, critic and editor. He was born the son of a poor Victorian Englishman.  From age 12 he suffered from tuberculosis, and when he was in his teens his left leg below the knee was amputated.  After a long recovery, when he was in his early twenties the disease made a comeback.  His doctor proposed amputating his right foot to save Henley’s life.  Refusing to accept the doctor’s advice Henley got a second opinion.  The new doctor saved the foot, but there were two more years of recovery.  While in hospital he met his future wife, as well as Robert Louis Stevenson, who became literary collaborator and friend; and also while there Henley wrote the poem Invictus.

Two things I learned from this search. First, Henley had a wonderful feeling for “the links” without playing them. (Given his physical trials it is unlikely that he ever played golf.) And second, he left us a most inspiring poem with phrases that you have often heard.

                 INVICTUS

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

This poem was originally published without a title. A publisher later added it. You can go to this second Wikipedia entry to learn more about the poem and some of its more public influences.

Note: Searching through Henley’s poetry I found the golf related verse above comes from a poem called “Ballade of Aspiration.” Here is the first two stanza which precede the verse which is the first half of the third stanza. Click here for the complete text.

 O to be somewhere by the sea,
Far from the city’s dust and shine,
From Mammon’s priests and from Mammon’s shrine,
From the stony street, and the grim decree
That over an inkstand crooks my spine,
From the books that are and the books to be
And the need that makes of the sacred Nine,
A school of harridans ! – sweetheart mine,
O to be somewhere by the sea !

Under a desk I bend my knee,
Whether the morn be foul or fine.
I envy the tramp, in a ditch supine,
Or footing it over the sunlit lea.
But I struggle and write and make no sign,
For a laboring ox must earn his fee,
And even a journalist has to dine;
But O for a breath of the eglantine!
O to be somewhere by the sea.

So even this non-golfing journalist/poet saw the attractiveness of the links “by the sea.”

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The End of Golf Season Once More

The following is an excerpt from my book Golf Course of Rhymes – Links between Golf and Poetry Through the Ages. (The book is available on Amazon,  Barnes and Nobles and Amazon in Europe including Amazon UK.)

Francis Bowler Keene, who graduated from HarvardUniversity in 1880, a contemporary of Kipling, wrote a poem that should appeal especially to golfers who live in snowy areas of the country. In his title, Keene uses the word “monody,” meaning lament, to set his tone.

A Golfer’s Monody, After the First Snowfall

No greens, no tees;
.        No fragrant breeze;

No harmony of happy-hearted birds;
.        No verdure deep;
.        No roaming sheep;

No faithful collies, watchful of their herds;
.        No sunny glade;
.        No woodland shade;

No ferny path beneath the rustling trees;
.        No springy turf;
.        No murmuring surf;

No passing hum of honey-laden bees;
.        No motors fleet;
.        No golfers’ meet;

No lazy caddies lolling day by day;
.        No warning call;
.        No flying ball;

No contest in the fine and friendly fray;
.        No clubs to wield;
.        No drive afield;

No plaudits as the ball, far-driven flies;
.        No close-trimmed lawn;
.        No bunker’s yawn;

No hidden hazards lurking with bad lies;
.        No brassy swift;
.        No niblick’s lift;

No ringing click of iron, clear and clean;
.        No cleek’s true swing;
.        No mashie’s fling;

No careful putt along the velvet green;
.        No Club-nights gay;
.        No moonlit bay;

No dinners marked by mirth and merry jest;
.        No music bright;
.        No dancers light;

No broad verandah thronged with happy guests;
.        No winding walks;
.        No golfers’ talks;

No genuine delight for every member;
.        No matches more;
.        No games galore;
.        No joyous strife;
.        No zest in life;
.                November.

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Golf, War and Freddie Tate

In my book Golf Course of Rhymes – Links between Golf and Poetry Through the Ages I devoted part of a chapter to golf related poems connected with World War I.  Since writing the book, I discovered a poem about Frederick Tate, a Scottish amateur golfer who lost his life in the Second Boer War. Tate was killed in action on February 7, 1900 at the age of 30.

During his brief amateur career, Freddie Tate, as he was called, won two Amateur Championships (1896, 1898) and twice placed third in the Open Championship (1896, 1897). And during that career he won the hearts of Scotland’s golfing public. Bernard Darwin wrote in his Sketchbook,

“In his day and in his own Scotland he was a national hero. I do not think I have ever seen any other golfer so adored by the crowd─no, not Harry Vardon or Bobby Jones in their primes. It was a tremendous and, to his adversaries, an almost terrifying popularity.”

So  the tremendous outpouring of grief  was not surprising when news of his death reached Great Britain. Little more than two weeks after his death, the February 23, 1900 issue of Golf Illustrated included a long “Appreciation” by the magazine’s Editor and the following  poem. Many more tributes followed.

    LIEUTENANT F.G. TAIT

(Killed at Koodoosberg, February, 1900)

Another hero from the fair-haired North
Add to the roll of those the boding strains
Of War ‘twixt Boer and Briton summoned forth
To shed their life blood on dark Afric’s plains.

There’s Golf where’er on earth sounds English tongue,
And where’er golfers meet, at rest or play,
Where champion feats at Golf are told or sung,
The name of Freddy Tait will live for aye.

We read his death, with eye perforce grown dim
For comrade snatched before us from the strife;
We mourn our loss, but should we mourn for him?
Could death more glorious crown a fairer life?

He died “with sword in hand for England’s right;”
Aye, this he did, and dying left behind,
‘Mong those who to the end will see this fight,
No better golfer, and no nobler mind.

As we salute our Veterans today, and much a Europe remembers World War I, golfers around the world might also want to remember the most famous and heroic Scottish amateur golfer, Freddie Tate.

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president mckinley

When President Obama first took office, I wrote a Post, “When Travis Played the President,” about a golf match at the Chevy Chase Club course in Maryland between Walter J. Travis and President Taft. (See http://golfpoet.com/2009/02/09/when-travis-played-the-president/)

In his first term, President Obama has played his share of golf. During the re-election campaign he has been criticized for this practice. Here, for example, is a recent headline from CBSNews.com, “President Obama plays 100th round of golf, draws fire from critics.” But golfing Presidents are nothing new.  Nor is the criticism.

The exploits of golfing Presidents have been ably documented by ESPN Senior Writer Don Van Natta in his book  “First Off the Tee: Presidential Hackers, Duffers, and Cheaters from Taft to Bush.” But what about Presidents who may have tried golf before Taft? As Van Natta points out, in 1897 during his summer vacation President McKinley was persuaded  by his Vice President Garrett Hobart to play a few rounds. But McKinley  had no success.  Van Natta goes on with the story, writing,

“Two years later . . . McKinley surprised his aides when he announced that he would like to take up golf again.  . . . But his senior advisers were very concerned, telling McKinley that golf was “undignified for a President . . .”

In today’s world, if a reporter caught wind of such a story, s/he might have had some fun with it in a few paragraphs. But in McKinley’s time when poetry was popular, here is what I found in the July 7, 1899 issue of Golf Illustrated, an English weekly publication:

“President McKinley is only deterred from taking to Golf by fears that by so doing he might compromise the dignity of the Presidential Office. The Evening News’ poet soliloquises as follows:

‘What degradation may there be,
What loss of manly dignity,
In boldly driving off the tee?
Or is it that, perhaps, you know
Your limbs, I mean the ones below
In heather stocking clad, would show
But thinly,
McKinley?’”

Maybe President Obama is lucky that there seems to be no interest in poetry among his Republican detractors.

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