(Here's the text, more or less, of the Gleaner's radio commentary thingy on KNPR Wednesday morning -- with the links, in case you, too, want to examine the golfing habits of the rich and powerful. Fun for the whole family, etc.).
By most accounts, Nevada Sen. Harry Reid's first year as leader of the Senate Democrats went pretty well. The Bush administration's plans to privatize Social Security went belly-up. The Scooter Libby fiasco was parlayed into putting the administration in the unusual role of playing defense on the Iraq war. And, highlighted when Reid dramatically laid the smack down on the U.S. Senate and almost made Republican leader Bill Frist cry, the Democrats under Reid uncharacteristically stood up straight, almost as if they had a spine. So yeah, a pretty good year for Harry.
But you know who had a really good year. Ensign. You know, John Ensign. Nevada's other senator.
When the year began, Ensign's golf handicap, as indexed and recorded with the United States Golf Association, was 7.7. For those of you who don't play golf, the lower a handicap, the better, and a 7.7 is pretty darn good. Little wonder that when a Washington D.C. newspaper called The Hill wrote a feature piece about the special relationships lobbyists and members of Congress develop on the back nine, Ensign was one of a handful of elected officials who were named in connection with holding fundraisers at golf courses.
By October, when Golf Digest ranked the course prowess of several Washington insiders, Ensign had worked his handicap down to a 6.5 -- the lowest of any U.S. senator. By comparison, former House Speaker Tom DeLay, for instance, reportedly had an 11 handicap in the Golf Digest rankings. Jack Abramoff had an 11.7. One of Abramoff's cronies, David Safavian, suffers with a handicap of 20. So does disgraced ex-California congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham. So is it unfair to compare Ensign to any of these guys. Absolutely. Without question, Ensign could out-shoot any one of them anywhere, anytime.
And if those guys could somehow get out of court long enough to play 18 holes, they sure wouldn't want to try any skins action against Ensign now. According to the U.S. Golf Association, Nevada's junior senator has in the last few months worked his handicap down to an incredibly impressive 4.4!
Now a handicap that low doesn't just happen. You've got to work at it. And you've got to put in a lot of time on the course. And Ensign has.
For instance, remember just before Christmas and all the senators were all owly and bitter because they couldn't iron out last-minute spending bills and go home for the holidays? On December 20, a Tuesday, the Senate was debating funding cuts to social programs and a last-minute scheme to attach drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to a defense spending bill. Some senatorial tempers were flaring.
But not John Ensign's. According to the USGA's handicap index, on Tuesday, December 20, Ensign shot an 83.
Of course, Ensign can't just golf all the time, and most of his trips to the course -- well, those rounds entered in his handicap scoring history with the USGA, anyway -- happened on days that the Senate was not in session. In fact, cross referencing Ensign's USGA scores against the congressional record shows that of the last 65 days in 2005 when the U.S. Senate was in session, Ensign went golfing on only six of them. Which, really, makes his 4.4 handicap all the more impressive.
So congratulations to Sen. Ensign. Sure, any senator can make speeches about how wonderful things are in Iraq, introduce a big piece of legislation on behalf of giant telephone and cable corporations, fight to limit the expansion of health care assistance to Katrina evacuees or vote in perennial lockstep with the White House. But not only did Ensign do all that. He shaved three strokes off his handicap. Now that’s a heckuva year.