After all, he never won a major. Or a professional golf tournament. Or a significant amateur event. Heck, he never even won a club championship – at any level.
Quite simply, Ike profoundly popularized and significantly helped grow the game as no one else since perhaps Francis Ouimet in 1913 and Bobby Jones in 1930.
Ike didn’t start playing the game until he was in his mid 30s and then, because of a knee injury, suffered from what was called a “congenital slice.” But once he did start playing, he became completely smitten. Upon his return from Europe, he joined Augusta National – and later Blind Brook Club in New York, Burning Tree just outside of Washington and El Dorado in Palm Springs. His handicap varied from a low of 14 to 18, but he did manage to break 80 on about a dozen occasions.
And boy did Ike love the game! He had a putting green installed on the White House lawn and would occasionally slip out of the Oval Office in the afternoon for a round. His 29 trips to Augusta during his Presidency were dutifully reported in the national press, sometimes derisively.
Of course, all that publicity shone a hot spotlight on the game and fueled continued interest in it.
At the same time, a young charismatic golf professional by the name of Arnold Palmer came out of western Pennsylvania hitching up his pants and winning golf tournaments. With Palmer’s win in the 1958 Masters shown on television, America fell hard for the game, just as their President had. And it didn’t hurt that the President and Palmer became fast friends and would play often at Augusta.
It was a combustible mixture – a President, a King, The Masters and the advent of golf on television, to catapult the game to dizzying heights of popularity.
And it was Dwight David Eisenhower – Ike to all of us – an inveterate everyman golfer, who was responsible for igniting America’s love affair with the game.