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Team USA blown away by 'awesome' trip to White House
By Kathy Orton, Special to PGA.com
WASHINGTON, Nov. 17 -- Paul Azinger, the 2008 United States Ryder Cup captain, is a regular visitor to the White House. He stopped by when George H.W. Bush was president and dropped in on Bill Clinton during his presidency. But of all the times he has been to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, the visit with the Ryder Cup team was his favorite.
"This was unbelievable," said Azinger, who carried with him the coveted Ryder Cup trophy, which the U.S. finally wrested from the Europeans in September with a thrilling 16 1/2-11 1/2 victory at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Ky.
"The President really shared from his heart about what being the president is like, and it didn't feel canned or anything. He just spoke from his heart."
Team USA was invited to the White House on Monday, and most attended along with their wives, assistant captain Raymond Floyd, PGA of America CEO Joe Steranka, President Jim Remy, Vice President Allen Wronowski and Honorary President Brian Whitcomb. Anthony Kim, Phil Mickelson, Kenny Perry, Justin Leonard and Steve Stricker missed the trip.
"I believe [the President] watched [the Ryder Cup], and he really pulled for us," Azinger said. "I think he respected what we did."
The only time Stewart Cink had been to the White House was in 2005 when he was a member of the U.S. Presidents Cup team, but that was a much less intimate experience.
"The last time was a receiving line with the President: 'Nice to meet you. Where are you from? Alabama. Next,'" Cink said.
This time the players and their wives were taken on a tour of the White House then lunched with senior staff members in the Old Executive Office Building. They came back to the White House in the afternoon to meet with the President in the Oval Office.
"It blew us away," Cink said. "We got personal attention. We got to talk to the President and have a conversation with him, joke with him. It was awesome."
Cink was struck by, as he put it, "how much of a normal dude he is."
"He's like us," Cink said of the President.
Said Chad Campbell: "It's nice to see how down to earth he was."
"He's common folk just like we are," added Boo Weekley. "He's just like his daddy, I think. I met his daddy before, a couple times. Like his daddy told me at the Ryder Cup, he said, 'Son, you act just like my son.' I said, 'Yes, sir, I probably do. I don't know that for a fact, but I probably do.'"
The President didn't talk much golf with the players, which was fine with them.
"He knows we don't want to talk about golf," Weekley said.
Instead, the President shared his thoughts on the presidency and what it had been like for him.
"You can tell how much respect he has for the office of the President, just the way he describes the history," Cink said. "Events that happened generations ago, the way that affected what his office is today."
Cink also ran into Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Her cousin lives in Cink's neighborhood, and they had met when she had been to Atlanta to take golf lessons. Rice, who took up the sport within the last couple years, has become an avid golfer.
Hunter Mahan was worried that he upset the President because he told him he was from California, even though he now lives in Texas.
"He asked if I was from Texas, and I'm not originally, but I do live there," Mahan said. "I consider myself a Texan more than a Californian, which is where I'm from. I hope I didn't offend him."
For Campbell, who grew up in Andrews, Texas, not far from Bush's childhood home of Midland, the visit was an experience of a lifetime. This was his first time meeting the President.
"It couldn't get any better for me, a guy that knows Andrews, Texas," Campbell said. "It was pretty cool."
Campbell was struck by the Oval Office.
"Just being there is cool, but how much smaller it looks than on TV," he said.
Weekley had driven around the White House before, but hadn't been inside until now.
"I would have come here the first time, but they had too many cops out there," he said. "I wasn't about to bust off in there."
He said the building itself was more than he expected.
"It's so much more history there," Weekley said. "I didn't think there'd be that much history in there. I figured they'd have like one room that had all the Presidents in it, but they had it in every hallway or every room had something. They had the dinner plates that each president ate from. It was a lot neater than I expected."