Presidential Round: How Would Abraham Lincoln Fare On The Golf Course?

With the Presidents Cup on the horizon, we’ve already taken a look at the best-golfing presidents. But what about just the best presidents? How well would they play?

Golf wasn’t played in the United States until the late 19th century, and the stick-and-ball game didn’t become popular until the early 20th. So, we have an intriguing thought experiment on our hands here.

Of the five greatest U.S. Presidents, only one, Franklin D. Roosevelt, actually lived in an era where golf was widely popular in the United States. Thus, of the five, he was the only one to actually tee it up.

Based on an aggregate of 18 historical rankings of the President of the United States, the remainder of the top five are: Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, Theodore Roosevelt, and Thomas Jefferson.

How would they fare in the modern golf game, if they were to be plucked out of their places in American history and plunked down on a driving range with the opportunity give the latest 460 CC driver a whack?

Who knows! But here are some guesses:

Theodore Roosevelt

Roosevelt, in office from 1901 to 1909, may have played golf while the sport was in its infancy. Given his advocacy of the virtues of competitive sports and “the strenuous life,” it seems he’d have been happy to take a few whacks. However, owing to the perception of the sport as a bourgeois leisure-time activity, it’s not surprising the rugged Roosevelt chose boxing and judo instead.

Still, you’d have to imagine Roosevelt, compact and plenty strong, would go all out with the driver…akin to Jon Rahm perhaps. Long and somewhat erratic off the tee. You can really see Teddy pounding the ball but losing patience with the delicacy required on the greens, perhaps giving his putter a healthy hurl. Tough to see him breaking 85.

Thomas Jefferson

President from 1801 to 1809, golf was but an obscure activity of a few folks in a few Scottish fields during the Virginian’s lifetime. Jefferson was an able horseman and shot, but he confined his “sporting” activities to the likes of chess and backgammon. At 6’2’’, 180 pounds, Jefferson ought to be able to put a decent strike on the ball.

Although, excessively formal as he was, it’s tough to imagine him going all out on a swing, thus he’d probably be an average length driver. You can see TJ being fascinated by the contours of the green and course management. Also, one would imagine he’d be an exceedingly slow player and judicious observer of the rules.

George Washington

Big, with a strong lower body from years in the saddle, Washington’s athleticism is the substance of childhood fables. And it’s difficult to imagine a better tactician and course manager than a man who was both a surveyor and a general.

No president would be so adept at choosing a strategy for maximum birdie-making and sticking to it as the commander of the Continental Army. It’s difficult to think Washington would be anything other than an excellent, well-rounded golfer.

Franklin D. Roosevelt

The Editors of Golf Digest write: “At 39, polio robbed him of a powerful golf swing.” Thus, we’ll assume FDR was a respectable golfer. He’d be comfortable teeing it up at a muni, despite his patrician nature, considering how he funneled millions of dollars into munis during the Great Depression. 6-foot-2 with plenty of grit (and based on the GD report), FDR would likely be a single-digit handicap.

Abraham Lincoln

6-foot-4 and rail thin, Abraham Lincoln wouldn’t have had the prettiest golf swing. It’s difficult to imagine he’d have produced a very powerful strike. However, he was reportedly handy with an axe.

Also, as a self-taught lawyer, one can imagine he’d read a couple of golf instruction books and be well grounded in the fundamentals. Even-tempered and intelligent, Lincoln would manage the highs and lows of the round of golf with the same cool determination he did during the Civil War.