May 2010

Donald Kerr


Donald Kerr worked for 33 years as a part time clerk in the sports department of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. His book on baseball's opening day is Opening Day (McFarland, 1999).


There isn't anything dirtier'n politics. Abe Wilson, the president was doing all right, however. The Democrats couldn't find anything really nasty to pin on him and polls showed 48% of the American public thought he was doing a good job.

What was even more encouraging, polls also showed only lukewarm support for Hans Becker, the leading Democratic contender. If the election were held now in July, it indicated that the president would get 47% of the vote, Becker would get 40% and who cares would get 13%.

Then the photograph appeared and everything changed. How and who got the photograph was never known. Democrats said it was some upright, concerned citizen. Republicans claimed it was a doctored photo. But experts who examined it swore it was authentic and subsequent events tended to indicate that, yes, it was. Then Republicans said even if it was actual which they didn't for a moment believe, it was only an isolated incident, certainly not characteristic of a man whose first name was Abe, like Lincoln's, and whose last name was Wilson, like that (they acknowledged) great Democratic president, Woodrow Wilson.

The photograph was one taken during the president's golf match with Takasaki Oh, the Japanese prime minister. It was published in what Republicans have always claimed to be an outrageously liberal rag, the Washington Pillar.

It appeared on the front page and showed the president in the rough, nudging his ball into a good lie from a bad lie, with his foot. An accompanying photo showed a smiling president and his caddie together and balloons over each of their heads. The balloon above the head of the president read, "How am I laying, son?", and the balloon above the caddie's head reads, "You're lying well, sir!"

Well, when the Democrats saw this picture they went on the offensive. "How can we trust a man to continue in office who would cheat at golf?", demanded Hans Becker. "I'll tell you the truth, folks, I'm not a very good golfer, but when I play, I don't cheat! Why, that's awful!"

The president, obviously, was furious about the picture, since it was authentic. It had been known around Washington for years that he cheated on the golf course. But nobody argued with him over his score, because whoever was playing with him didn't want to beat him, they wanted to influence him. So, the president didn't feel he'd done anything wrong and he was outraged that the Democrats would sink this low to get him.

It was especially embarrassing because he'd only beaten Oh by two strokes. Well, he told his secretary of state, he'd be damned if he'd apologize about it.

Oh, a man of high honor, was privately shocked that the president had cheated. But, officially, he said that he thought the picture was faked. That the president would never cheat like that.

Other Japanese politicians reacted in anger, however, and the president's image sank in the land of the rising sun. Not that he cared. He was running for reelection to the presidency of the United States, not Japan.

His strategy about the incident was to emphatically deny it, call it a dirty trick by some unscrupulous Democrat and demand an apology from the Democratic National Committee.

In response, the Democrats rounded up disgruntled people—from pro golfers to high profile actors and actresses and retiring Democratic senators—who said they'd played golf with the president in the past and everyone knew he cheated.

The president held a press conference to talk about his program for free medical insurance covering the purchase of drugs for older folks and his plan for a college education for every person in the United States that didn't have one, hoping to diffuse the growing controversy on his golf game which some son of a bitch of a headline writer had called "Scoregate."

After he'd presented his projected ambitious plan to help all Americans, he opened the press conference to questions. There was one question from a planted reporter—the president called on him first—about the program. The other 30 questions involved his golf game.

"Do you cheat, Mr. President?", one reporter bluntly asked.

Some Democrats were calling for a special prosecutor and grand jury and issuing subpoenas to caddies and members of his cabinet he had played. He didn't think anything would come of it, but he had to be careful. He wanted to avoid criminal prosecution.

"As far as I can recall," he answered, "I've never cheated in a golf match."

"Well," another nasty woman reporter from one of those New York papers (he wouldn't have called on her if he'd known she was going to be such a bitch. The only reason he'd called on her was because she was so pretty), probed: "Senator Richardson recently said that in a match with you he'd be glad to swear in court that you shaved three points off your score to beat him. How do you respond to that?"

"It depends on what your definition of score is," the president responded, cleverly falling back on a strategy one of his predecessors had used.

They ended the press conference and that was the last one he held during his tenure in office. Reporters would yell questions at him concerning his golf game, but he ignored them. He loved playing golf, especially since he had always won before this—pointing out that it helped to relax him from the awful burdens of the office that he carried 24 hours a day on his shoulders—but he stopped playing until after he lost the election.

Before he lost it, however, he showed he wasn't going to go down without a fight. Once Hans Becker secured the Democratic nomination, the Republicans began running an ad showing Becker four-putting a green during a round of golf and they followed this visual with one of the president sharply dropping a putt from 30 feet away (that took 50 takes). A voiceover said, "Whose hand do you want on the nuclear trigger? A hacker or a pro?"

The president thought it was a hellofa commercial but the Democrats let up a howl of foul play, saying that, yes, the footage was film of one of Becker's golf games, but he'd just had a bad day. You couldn't say that he four-putted every green!

Surprisingly and disappointedly to the Republicans, the public's reaction to the ad was decidedly negative. Instead of instilling in the public a desire to have a president with a firm grip on the issues, it promoted a great deal of sympathy and warmth for Becker.

Becker said the ad didn't bother him a bit. He said, in response to it, that once he became president, reporters would no longer be banned from following the president around as he played a game of golf. Of course, not all two or three hundred reporters who covered the president would be able to accompany him in his games, but there would be a pool reporter or two and a couple of photographers and he wouldn't care at all when the newspapers reported his scores.

"We'll see," Abe Wilson fumed as he watched Becker make that statement at a press conference on a public course. "If that bastard gets elected. We'll see. You'll never read his golf score again and the papers won't even follow up on it."

When he lost the election he complained to his wife about the unfairness of it all. "Here I am, the most powerful man in the world, thrown out of office because my foot accidentally kicked a golf ball. Now, you tell me, Evelyn, is that fair or isn't it?"

"Accidentally?", his wife asked, arching her eyebrows. "You don't have to stretch the truth around me, darling."

Four months after he was sworn in, on a warm day in May, president Hans Becker made his way out to the Congressional Golf Club to play a match with Senator Durwood Evans, the Republican majority leader. As promised, he picked out a couple reporters and photographers to accompany them during their match.

Before Evans drove off first, the president was seen talking to his caddie and giving him a pair of odd looking goggles. Evans hit his drive long and straight down the first fairway. The president bent down to shove his tee in the ground with his ball on top of it and took a couple practice swings.

There was one strange thing. There was no ball on the tee. "Mr. President," Hortense Springer, one of the reporters chosen to accompany the pair on their match said politely, "There's no ball on your tee."

The president smiled indulgently. "But there is, Hortense," he said. "Gather around here, folks," he told the other observers and they did so. "This golf ball—" he reached down as if to snatch something off the tee, "is a special one invented by the CIA. As you can probably see, it's invisible. Now, I didn't want to use it. I wanted to use a regular ball, just like Senator Evans. But the CIA boys insisted it was a matter of security. This way, nobody will be able to replace one of my driven balls with a ball that might be booby-trapped. I said that was ridiculous, how could anyone get near enough to me or one of the balls I hit—they don't go far—to replace the ball I was driving. But, they pointed out that they got close enough to take that unfortunate photograph of President Wilson and with the very real threat of terrorists in the world today, I'd either use their invisible ball or none at all.

"Now, Sammy, my caddie here," he put his arm around his young caddie's shoulders, "has been equipped with a pair of goggles—as have a couple of secret servicemen here and there around the course—and they'll be able to sight where my ball goes. I'd love to give you reporters a pair of these goggles, but they are part of some exotic secret weapons we're developing and I'm not allowed to do so.

"But, we'll give you an honest accounting of our golf game, you can take my word for it."

They played the match. It was amazing how the president's game improved with the invisible ball. In the past he'd played 18 holes in scores in the high 90's and low 120's. This day he made the round in 84. He beat Senator Evans by fifteen strokes. The Senator didn't care, because he got the president to agree to back a bill for a scenic highway through the mountains in his state.

There was one more newsworthy incident related to the president's golf game after that match. When the President of China, Chang Fu, came to the United States, he was eager to play a round of golf with the president, which was surprising, since golf is not that popular in China.

So, they headed out to the course. The president, being diplomatic, told Fu he'd see to it that Fu was given an invisible ball to play his round with. Fu thanked him.

After the president had driven his ball down the fairway some 230 yards, according to his begoggled caddie, Fu stepped up to tee off.

"President Fu," Becker noted, "you don't seem to have a club. In fact, I don't see your clubs at all. But, that's all right, I'll gladly loan you my driver."

"I don't need a driver, or any clubs," Fu told the president through his interpreter. "The Chinese also have mastered the art of making things invisible. We have invisible clubs. I will use my invisible club to drive your invisible ball."

Amazingly, both presidents had a great day on the course, their caddies exclaiming in wonder at their shots. The Chinese president won the match by one stroke. The reporters who followed them around were bored, and the photographers grew weary of snapping shots of them swinging at invisible balls and the president of China swinging with invisible clubs.

Instead of writing about the golf game in their stories, they featured what happened afterwards, when, in an extraordinary exchange of potentially awesome technology, the president of the United States presented the President of China with five dozen invisible golf balls and the president of China gave the president of the United States a full set of invisible clubs.

It was written that if two such powerful nations as the United States and China could share such exotic technology without having to resort to months and months of embittered treaty talks, then perhaps there was hope for the world after all.



Donald Kerr: Fiction
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