President Barack Obama, left, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, right,...

President Barack Obama, left, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, right, and Ohio Gov. John Kasich are on the first green as they play golf at Andrews Air Force Base, Md. (June 18, 2011) Credit: AP

Never has Washington been so atwitter about golf. The Beltway was one big fairway yesterday, what with the breathless match involving President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner. The intrigue all week had been about where it would be held, with only Congressional Country Club ruled out, because the U.S. Open was going on there.

It turns out it wasn't a left-right battle at Joint Base Andrews (formerly Andrews Air Force Base). They played it straight down the middle, with Obama and Boehner on the same team, in the same cart. Surprise of surprises, the two titans of their respective parties prevailed over Vice President Joe Biden (Democrat) and Ohio Gov. John Kasich (Republican).

They'd like us to believe the match was decided on the 18th green and that the victors came away with $2. It is just the way someone would make it up. Not that anyone would, of course (point of information: the U.S.G.A. did not have a rules official assigned to the group).

In any case, it was nice to see America's leaders playing such spirited golf. Now if only we could get our pro golfers to do the same.

Saturday was not a proud moment for the host country at the U.S. Open. From reports submitted by varying sources, including every scoreboard, Congressional -- seven miles from the Capitol building -- was playing easy in Round Three. You just couldn't prove it by the home team.

Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland kept cruising on autopilot. Australia's Jason Day and England's Lee Westwood each shot 6-under par 65. Fredrik Jacobson of Sweden shot 66.

Alas, the American hopes were led by Robert Garrigus, using a tiny putter, who is at 5 under par, nine strokes behind McIlroy. Unless something biblical happens Sunday, Obama's and Boehner's countrymen will lose their fifth straight major. What is this, soccer?

Golf is not as foreign a game as it looks. I saw evidence myself, in a display at the American Express pavilion off the 17th hole. There were clips of John F. Kennedy showing his 8-handicap swing, of Ronald Reagan putting toward a glass on the Oval Office rug, under the eye of 1986 U.S. Open champion Ray Floyd, an American.

I saw Dwight Eisenhower's small red golf bag, and Richard Nixon's Wilson 2-wood.

Yes, golf once was an American sport. These days, not even the patriotism of Bubba Watson helps. Watson admirably wore camouflage clothes to raise funds for military families and was fresh off a visit to the White House Wednesday. Then he barely made the cut, shot 74 Saturday and is tied for 56th at 7 over with, among others, Phil Mickelson, another White House visitor.

"I'm just not that good. Simple as that," Watson said.

He could have been speaking for his nation. That is not so simple to explain, actually. But this peanut stand has a few ideas:

First, one former Tour pro said that young American golfers have become too dependent on instruction and too conscious of swing mechanics. European golfers, he said, play more by feel and creativity.

Second, we are increasingly becoming a nation of watchers rather than doers. The new version of the American dream is watching someone else win "American Idol." For the past 15 years or so, people in the U.S. have been enthralled by watching Tiger Woods, but not inspired to emulate him.

Third, we are victims of our own progress and largesse. This still is the land of opportunity, and kids like a 9-year-old McIlroy have taken the opportunity to improve in our world-class youth tournaments. Prodigies such as a teenaged Graeme McDowell come over to play in our superior college programs, and learn how to become a U.S. Open champion.

The bottom line is that American golf needs a new deal. It needs hope and change. In Floyd's day, a golfer would visit the White House to celebrate winning the Open. This week, they went there before getting throttled. What did they talk about? "It's secret," Watson said. "We had the door shut, you can't talk about that."

We probably wouldn't want to know.