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Presidents Cup: Bill Clinton talks golf strategy with Phil Mickelson

Former U.S. Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush

Former U.S. Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton attend the trophy presentation prior to Thursday's foursome matches of the Presidents Cup at Liberty National Golf Club on Sept. 28, 2017 in Jersey City, N.J. Credit: Getty Images North America / Rob Carr

JERSEY CITY — The presence of three former U.S. presidents made for a stirring ceremony at the start of the Presidents Cup.

It also was more than ceremonial for the honored guests, who are avid golf fans. That was especially true for Bill Clinton, who was eager to talk golf strategy with reporters until a Secret Service agent came up to whisk him away.

Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama all were introduced as they sat in a special seating section near the first tee and all received ovations from a nonpartisan crowd. Then the three former chief executives all stood on the tee as players from the U.S. and International teams began their alternate-shot matches.

The three presidents spoke with players, captains and assistant captains from both sides, then stood on the tee as play began. They mingled with the players, talking about the game that all three of them like.

Clinton was seen in a spirited conversation with Phil Mickelson, who did not take his twosome’s tee shot in the final match (partner Kevin Kisner did). So, they were free to discuss how to play the windswept 427-yard dogleg left first hole, with a narrow creek on the left and a tree at the corner. To Clinton, it looked as if the tree was something to be avoided, possibly by laying up short of it.

“He was back there and he wasn’t teeing off and I said, ‘If you were teeing off would you hit 3-wood?’ He said, ‘No, I’d hit driver. We can all reach that tree, all of us, even in the wind. The problem is, then what happens?’ He talked about how in one of the groups, both the International and American teams hooked left, with a little help from the tree, but they went far enough left that they were to the left of the creek, so they had an easy chip in to the green,” Clinton said in an impromptu scrum after the players had all gone onto the course.

“If there were no wind, these big hitters, they would all hit it over the tree. But having to mess with it, puts them at risk of the creek. The only ones that have been in the water that I’ve seen are the ones who went in the creek beyond that [tree],” Clinton said.

At that point, the agent came up and told him, “President Bush is waiting,” which was a cue for an end to the golf chat. But as he left, Clinton laughed that for him and for his fellow amateurs, success on the hole would consist of just getting it in the fairway, “and not go in there,” he said, pointing to the water.

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