Michigan Golfer ON-LINE

An Exclusive Michigan Golfer Interview: Gerald R. Ford

Oct/Nov 1983
By Terry Moore

This month the Michigan Golfr interviews one of the true ambassadors of golf, former President Gerald R. Ford. Before becoming this nation's 38th President in 1974, Ford served as Vice-President and had represented Michigan's Fifth Congressional District continuously for 25 years. He was the House Minority Leader from 1965 to 1973. Although a Grand Rapids resident for most of his career, Ford and his wife Betty now divide their time between their two homes in Palm Springs, California and Beaver Creek (near Vail), Colorado. Celebrating his 70th birthday in July, Ford's schedule includes appearances, service on several Boards of Directors, charity and political fundrasing, and of course, golf. In 1977, Ford and his friends organized the Jerry Ford Invitational Golf Tournament in Vail. In addition to attracting the premier Tour players-including Jack Nicklaus-to Vail, the Pro-Am Tournamant has raised over $200,000 for state and local charities. Also an avid skier, Ford has hosted Vail's American Ski Classic, bringing together some of the best ski races, skiing legends, and many well-known celebrities. Like the golf tournament, the proceeds went to various area charities. President Ford was interviewed in August at his new home in Beaver Creek by Editor Terry Moore.

Michigan Golfer: How did yoou perfect that bunker shot that you holed in your tournament this year?

Ford: Well, it's probably one in a thousand. (laughing)

Michigan Golfer: But didn't you hole one at the Crosby?

Ford: Yes, at Pebble Beach I sank a chip shot that they picked up on national television. I get my share of shots that amateurs get lucky with.

Michigan Golfer: How often are you playing now?

Ford: The last three weeks I've played probably a third of the time. It varies. If I'm here I play every other day. But when I travel it's difficult to play at all.

Michigan Golfer: What kind of handicap are you carrying these days?

Ford: I'm playing to a 16 now. Last summer I was a 12, but I had a bad knee and I had an operation. Then this June I had another operation and was laid up for about four weeks. So I'm a 16 now. I'll get down to 12 by next year when I play in the Hope.

Michigan Golfer: How many Pro-Ams do you usually play?

Ford: About seven. Usually the Hope, the Crosby, the L.A., the Byron Nelson, the Memoria, the Danny Thomas, and one or two others.

Michigan Golfer: Do you still get jitters on the first tee of a Pro-Am?

Ford: I still get concerned when I see a big gallery all the way down the first tee on both sides of the fairway because I'm not the most consistent off the tee. But my game's getting better and the best evidence is I'm hitting fewer spectators. (smiling)

Michigan Golfer: How did you play in your tournament this year?

Ford: I played fairly well. Played with Larry Nelson and I probably never hit better drives. Larry kidded me about my good drives and lousy second shots.

Michigan Golfer: Everybody played their own ball through the hole. Was it a best-ball with handicap?

Ford: Yes, I don't like the scramble. That's not individual competition.

Michigan Golfer: Where do you enjoy playing golf here in Vail?

Ford: Well, I vary where I play. I try to play all the courses. The handiest, of course, is Beaver Creek; it's right down the road. Singletree is only seven mminutes away and that's an excellent course. Eagle-Vail, another challenging course, is a short distance away. The Vail Golf Course is probably 20 minutes away. It's a very fine municipal course. And Arrowhead, a new Jack Nicklaus course, will only be ten minutes away.

Michigan Golfer: You play Vail as well as Singletree for your Ford Invitational Tournament, is that right?

Ford: Yes, And we had a strictly amateur day here on Sunday at Beaver Creek. And over the years we'll probably alternate. When the Arrowhead course is completed, this will be the mecca of golf for the Rocky Mountains.

Michigan Golfer: It'll extend the whole tourist season here.

Ford: That's right. But we get more courses and it's still tough to get tee times.

Michigan Golfer: We found that out this morning.

Ford: Well, we have a lot of conventions. They're busy. But when we get Arrowhead there will be five courses within fifteen miles. That's a lot of golf courese for this area.

MIchigan Golfer: Your event has been one of the most successful in terms of drawing the top Pros. Among other factors, is that because of the Monday-Tuesday format?

Ford: Monday-Tuesday is the best way to get to most top Pros. We try to coordinate it so it's not a transportation problem. This year we flew 40 Pros, more or less, from Los Angeles to here. And then after the tournament on Tuesday we flew quiite a few to the Buick Open. So we had to charter a plane from L.A. to here and then charter another from here to Michigan.

Michigan Golfer: I know Tom Pond, the buick Tournament Director, was very appreciative of that. He mentioned at a Pre-Buick Press Conference how much that really helped the Buick in attracting the 'name' Pros.

Ford: We like to cooperate and as a result we get fine cooperation from Commissioner Deane Berman, from the PGA as a whole. They come up here and lay out the courses for us and help us in every way. Tom Place (PGA Tour's Director of Information) does all the publicity. Of coures, Tom knows the game, knows the people, and does a superb job for us.

Michigan Golfer: And what are the charties that you play for?

Ford: Well, we give all the money to a foundation and the foundation allocates it to the Vail charties. They cover the Vail Clinic, the various charties that exist in the Vail Valley. We hope to average between $40,000 and $50,000 a year, which is quite a bit of money for a small community. But we try to distribute the money equitably. Various charties ask for sums that they can justify and then we always get more requests than we have money. We have a Board that makes the decision on how much each one will recieve. It's similar to the United Way.

Michigan Golfer: How did you first start playing golf? And where did you start playing?

Ford: Oh, I started as a caddy for my father and uncle. But I never took it seriously. I never had time. When I was 12 or 13 years old I caddied at the Old Masonic course in Grand Rapids which is now Green Ridge CC. My father and uncle belonged there so I used to caddy for them. But I never really had time to really play, to get better, and I never, until I left the White House, took it very seriously.

Michigan Golfer: So you didn't play vaery much at Burning Tree CC in Washington D.C.?

Ford: Oh, I played at the most mabye once a week when I was in Congress, and probably once every two weeks when I was in the White House. You can't become very competent when you play that infrequently. But when I left the White House I started to take it seriously and went from a bad 18 handicapper down to a 12 a year ago. I took some lessons last year from Phil Rodgers, who's an excellent teacher. He really improved my short game.

Michigan Golfer: What did he have you do?

Ford: Well, he changed my whole style of chipping so that I gat the shaft up my arm more. I'm getting away frtom flipping the club. It's been a great. improvement. He's also improved the consistency of my woods and irons, although I have more work to do on that.

Michigan Golfer: What did he have you do on your overall swing?

Ford: To concentrate on coming inside more on the downswing and to follow through more in an outside pattern.

Michigan Golfer: So you get more of an inside-out swing?

Ford: Yes. It's pretty hard to teach an old dog new tricks. I used to start the club outside and then come inside on the downswing. As a result, I'd either end up with a horrendous slice or a bad pull.

Michigan Golfer: Did he have you work on your downswing or your backswing?

Ford: Both. By having you come inside when you start down, and then swing outside as you finish, Rodgers tries to develop consistency. It's improved, but I really to play more and practice more. I think in time I will. I still have gooddistance , but I don't hit them quite as far as I used to. But I'm more accurate.

Michigan Golfer: What are some of your favorite courses in Michigan?

Ford: The University of Mmmichigan has good courses. Both U of M and Radrick Farms.

Michigan Golfer: Did you play as a student at MIchigan?

Ford: I played the University course infrequently. It's a great golf course. I enjoy playing some of the courses up in Northern Michigan-Boyne, Boyne Highlands. They're very good courses.

Michigan Golfer: What about courses you've played around the country?

Ford: Well, it's hard to beat Pebble Beach and Cypress. Those are two really gorgeous golf courses. Riviera is a tough course for an amateur, particularly when it's prepared for a professional tournament and they let the rough grow. Muirfield Village in Columbus is a superb course. I think Hawaii has some superb courses. Mauna Kea is a super course and some of the others on Maui are very impressive. But you can't beat Pebble Beach and Cypress for pure beauty and challenge.

Michigan Golfer: Would you say there's one course that's toughest for an amateur to play?

Ford: Well, Pebble Beach when it's played in the Crosby is tough because you have to play from the same tees the Pros do. And that's hard. In the Bob Hope, the amateurs play short tees.

Michigan Golfer: Who's been your Pro partnerin the Crosby?

Ford: I've played four years with Arnold Palmer and then two years with Jack Nicklaus. I was supposed to play with Jack last February but my knee gave out and I had to withdraw. I'm planning to play with him this year.

Michigan Golfer: Your knee's not giving you any problems now?

Ford: No, knock on wood. It hinders me a bit because I can't follow through properly. It's just stiffer and less flexible.

Michigan Golfer: Do you have a special round that you rememberin competition?

Ford: I probably had my best round in the third round last year at the Hope. I really played well; I shot an 81. Our foursome didn't do very well, but that was my best round in competition. I was hitting the ball very well, both off the tee and otherwise.

Michigan Golfer: What's your best round ever?

Ford: I've had a 79 down at the Vail course.

Michigan Golfer: That's a very good course.

Ford: Oh, yes. You can get in trouble. Lots of water, out of bounds. So it's tough.

Michigan Golfer: On a different subject, in talking witgh the leaders of golf, do you find people optimistic about the future of golf? Golf Digest had an article a couple of months ago, 'The Crisis Facing Golf,' the fact that ther's not enough juniors playing golf. Do you hear people talking about such a crisis?

Ford: I don't see it as a major problem. Certainly if you look at the number of new golf courses being built, there must be a growing interest. And if you go to various resorts or even local clubs, they're all doing well. Memberships are tough to get. I think one of the problems is the high cost of memberships. I don't knoe what they are in Michigan, but memberships are getting very expensive. In California, a good club is at least $25,000. That's a lot of dough. But, when you see all the new courses being built-my goodness-there's over 50 in Palm Springs alone-you must think golf is in pretty good shape.

Michigan Golfer: Is there any legislation you see as posing a threat to golf or sports in general?

Ford: I just hope government leaves athletics alone. The minute you get government involved in something, there's a potential for problems. I'm very sympathetic to what they're doing out in Los Angeles. They're financing the Olympics by private sources. That's tremendous. That's a good example of what can be done without government. I think they'll have a first class Olympic showing in L.A. and government had nothing to do with it. They're going to build fine facilities, run it well, and my impression is that it will be a great Olympics.

Michigan Golfer: What are some of your major endeavors you're pursuing these days?

Ford: A wide variety of activities. I've been to over 106 college and university campuses, taught more than 500 classes, answered more than 6000 questions from students and faculty. I do about 5 colleges a year now. I used to do more. spend about 2 days in each college. I'm going to SMU this fall, going to Villanova, going to the Coast Guard Academy. I'm on the Bord of Directors of eight corporations. I do a lot of fund-rasing for charitable organizations-Boy Scouts, United Way, various others. And I do my share of politicking for canidates that I believe in. So, between going to colleges and universities, boards of directors, charties, politics, I'm pretty busy.

Michigan Golfer: Is that the way you like it?

Ford: Oh yes. But I've had a tendency the last two years to get overcommitted. We're trying to phase down now. I'm seventy-you oughta start relaxing.

MIchigan Golfer: Well, you look fit.

Ford: I feel good. It's not quite the retirement that Betty and I envisioned, but it's been enjoyable, so we're very happy.

MIchigan Golfer: Where do you play at Palm Springs?

Ford: Well, our home is on Thunderbird, but I play many of the courses.

Michigan Golfer: Who are your golfing buddies?

Ford: The one I probably play with the most is Leonard Firestone. He's our next door neighbor in Palm Springs and is our next door neighbor here.

Michigan Golfer: Are you even in terms of your games?

Ford: Yes, our handicaps are identical. I also play with Bob Barrett a lot. He was my Army aide in Washington and worked for me when I left the White House. He lives in Vail and also has a house in California. So we play a lot together. And there's a group in Palm Springs-five, six, or more people that I regularly play with. The same is true here in Vail. John Purcell and Kaiser Marcus are among the group of players that I usually play with.

Michigan Golfer: In general, how would you describe the keys to your success?

Ford: The establishment of a goal and discipline. Discipline as to your time, your lifestyle. I don't deny that some people can get lucky, but I think the odds are that if you have a goal and you're disciplined as to how you're going to achieve it, the odds are that you'll do better than the person who's just lucky. In fact, there's an old saying that the harder you work, the luckier you get. I think that's true.

Michigan Golfer: Finally, Mr. President, what's been so special about golf to you? What's so appealing about it.

Ford: It's a combination of things. I like the challenge, the individual competitive goal. But I most enjoy the people that I play with. PGA Pros are a great group of individuals. And so are the amateurs. You don't find many disagreeable people on a golf course; they're pleasant, they're friendly. And of course, the atmosphere. Where can you find a more relaxing atmosphere with great scenery that a golf course?

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