17 June 2009

Bloomberg Also a Petulent, Controlling Jerk When He Golfs

From the New York Times:

For Bloomberg, a Leisurely Pursuit or an Obsession


Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg is not much of a sports fan. In baseball-mad New York, he has a passion for neither local team, has famously called Joe Torre “Joe Torres,” and finds the Belmont Stakes — and many other sporting events he is required to attend — something of a bore.

But like many driven men in their seventh decade, he has settled on a pastime that now borders on obsession: golf. And he pursues the game with the same results-oriented approach he brought to business and politics: fixating on prevailing and unbothered by the cost.

The billionaire mayor has hired two golf pros to improve his swing. He has joined exclusive clubs in Bermuda, Maryland, Florida and New York. He purchased a digital simulator to measure the speed of his swing and the distance of his shot.

His security guards sometimes keep his golf clubs in the trunk of his city S.U.V. when Mr. Bloomberg marches in parades, so he can escape to the links afterward. And when the banking system collapsed last September, and Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. needed to reach him on a Sunday, he was patched through to the SUBURBAN course where Mr. Bloomberg was playing.

As the mayor’s game improves, ever so incrementally, golf is finding its way into his conversations, public and private, as he invokes the sport as a metaphor for government and life.

(“He is obsessed with it,” said Christine C. Quinn, the City Council speaker and no golf lover.)

Mr. Bloomberg’s determination to master the sport, despite little natural talent for it, has proved a humbling chapter in an otherwise charmed life.

He took up the game around 2000, but “you probably wouldn’t want to call that golf, what he played,” said Daniel M. Donovan Jr., the Staten Island district attorney, who has played with Mr. Bloomberg for years.

“He was confused by it, actually,” said Morris Offit, a longtime friend and golf buddy of Mr. Bloomberg’s. “He felt that if he tried hard, gave it the appropriate attention and got good instruction, that he would improve rapidly.”

He did not.

Online records from those early days, recorded by the Metropolitan Golf Association, show that the mayor regularly shot over 100 — not exactly Tiger Woods territory.

Frustrated by his poor play, Mr. Bloomberg plunged himself into the game, becoming a regular at the Randalls Island driving range, and stealing away for weekend golf outings in Westchester, the Caribbean and the Hamptons, his security detail in tow.

And he often brings an instructor with him on the course. (One of them, Tom Sutter, commands $130 an hour.)

About a year ago, Joseph L. Bruno, then the majority leader of the New York Senate, invited Mr. Bloomberg to try a special driver designed to test a player’s swing. At the slightest mistake, the driver’s head swivels back and forth “like a wet noodle,” Mr. Bruno said.

When Mr. Bloomberg swung, “the thing flipped and flopped, and I could see he was getting pretty upset,” Mr. Bruno recalled.

Several weeks later, Mr. Bloomberg returned to Mr. Bruno’s office in Albany and demanded a second chance. He swung the club perfectly. “He must have gone out and bought a dozen of those things and swung them everywhere he went,” Mr. Bruno said.

Those who have played with the mayor said that, unlike some politicians who fail to tally errant shots, he is scrupulously honest on the course, counting every shot, no matter where it lands.

Mr. Bruno recalled playing with the mayor in Bermuda, where Mr. Bloomberg has a home. The mayor’s intensity kicked in when his ball landed on the edge of the woods.

“The ball looked unplayable,” Mr. Bruno recalled. “He didn’t have a clear swing. He had the right to move it a club’s length and take a one-stroke penalty. He insisted that he would hit it. It proved unplayable after a couple of swings. He was not a happy guy. The steam was coming right out of his ears.

Aides to Mr. Bloomberg refuse to make public his handicap. The United States Golf Association listed it at 18, but that appears to be based on scores he posted when he was just starting to play (like the 121 he scored in 2002 at a country club at Purchase, N.Y.). Former Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani has a handicap of 17, according to the association, while his wife, Judith, has a handicap of 16.

Those who play with Mr. Bloomberg said the mayor, 67, who stands 5 feet 8 inches and appears fit, if not ripped, hits the ball straight but not especially far. He is a decent putter, but loudly scolds himself when he hits a bad shot — “Come on, Mike!”

These days, he still hits more bogeys than birdies, but Mr. Bloomberg now routinely shoots between 80 and 90, said those who play with him. “The improvement in his game is amazing,” said Mr. Donovan, who is scheduled to play with Mr. Bloomberg over the Fourth of July weekend.

Donald Trump, who has played with Mr. Bloomberg at the Trump National Golf Club at Briarcliff Manor in Westchester, said: “He’s got a wonderful golf swing. He hits its steady and straight. If he had more time to play, he’d be a terror.”

The game has proved a useful political tool for the mayor. He has schmoozed the head of the Staten Island Republican Party over a round of golf. And he flew Mr. Bruno and Sheldon Silver, the speaker of the State Assembly, to Bermuda for a weekend of golf and conversation.

Still, his unbridled fervor for a game associated with the country club set has occasionally landed him in hot water. During his weekly radio address in 2006, Mr. Bloomberg was asked to name a typical job performed by illegal immigrants. He immediately thought of golf.

“You and I are beneficiaries of these jobs,” the mayor told his co-host, John Gambling. “You and I both play golf. Who takes care of the greens and the fairways in your golf course?” The remarks drew howls of protests from immigration groups.

And at a civic meeting in Canarsie, a working-class section of Brooklyn, earlier this year, homeowners interrogated the mayor about rising taxes and living costs. At one point, Mr. Bloomberg asked how many golfers were in the audience — and the answer appeared to be zero.

In 2001, when he first ran for mayor, Mr. Bloomberg quit the Century Country Club in Purchase, which is predominately white. He maintains memberships at the Deepdale Golf Club in Manhasset, the Atlantic Golf Club in Bridgehampton, the Saint Andrews Golf Club in Hastings-on-Hudson and the Mid Ocean Club in Bermuda.

Speaking to reporters at a news conference on Wednesday, he described playing Bethpage on Long Island, where the United States Open begins on Thursday.

“It’s very long, it’s very hard, and that’s when it’s normal,” the mayor said. “What they do for these tournaments is they grow the fescue so tall that if you go in it, you almost never can find your ball. I think they have a 500-yard par four, which for me, to go 500 yards, is at least three shots, and that’s on a good day.”

He said he planned to catch some of the tournament on television, but will not attend himself.

“I’m a golfer. I’d like to play this weekend.”

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