The Washington Times - July 27, 2009, 06:38AM

President Obama is known for his unflappable cool, but those looking for signs of stress in the new commander-in-chief might find a clue in his changing sports preferences.

It was just last month that ESPN Magazine heralded a new day in Washington as a hoops town because of the country’s new president.


“Obama loves all things hoops,” Wright Thompson wrote, in a story that looked at the ways in which politicians and all stripes of power-seekers in Washington are tuning their games to try to get an invite to play with POTUS.

That may be, but if so, they’re most likely still waiting. After playing golf, again, yesterday, Obama has now hit the links 12 times during his six months in office, and gone off the White House grounds for a full run on the court only four times, according to the White House press corps statistician in chief, Mark Knoller of CBS News.

Now, Obama has had a new full court installed on the White House grounds, which has just been finished in the last week, Obama staffers told me. It is an outdoor court, so Obama may be back to balling soon.

But here’s a few reasons why the president may be gravitating towards the links rather than the hardwood or asphalt.

1. Golf is relaxing. The scenery is beautiful, the pace is nice and slow (unless you’re President George H.W. Bush). President George W. Bush was known to love mountain biking because it was one of the few times he could feel all alone, iPod earbuds in, nobody in front of him, just pedaling. Golf isn’t the same level of isolation, but you’re in a big physical space that the Secret Service can easily secure (Obama has played only on military bases) and so everybody’s chillaxin.

2. Golf is safer. There’s less risk of injury to the commander in chief swinging a golf club than there is crashing the boards for a rebound or going to the hoop.

3. Golf requires fewer people, and the president can play with just a few select people who he doesn’t have to worry about whether they want something from him or not. Obama has tended to play with a few of the same people. Yesterday, it was trip director Marvin Nicholson, young press shop staffer Ben Finkenbinder, and David Katz, a photographer for Obama’s campaign. None of those guys is going to be hitting up the president for a favor, and the president likely feels he can be himself around them and not put on airs.

4. Let’s be honest, if Obama wants to smoke or drink beer, golf is the perfect place. Photographers don’t see him for almost the entire round.

Of course, it might just be that Obama’s caught the golf bug. And when I mentioned his increasing golf habit to a White House staffer, the staffer mentioned that this pattern would likely be reversed in the winter, when there’s no golf to be played but the indoor gym still beckons.


UPDATE - 10:55 A.M.

I was told by a White House staffer that there’s been at least one full court game on the White House grounds outdoor court recently, and that with the court fully renovated (new lines and new baskets) the frequency of games is expected to increase.

— Jon Ward, White House reporter, The Washington Times

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