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From William Howard Taft to George W. Bush, 14 American Presidents have played golf, but no one looked more comfortable on the links than Jack Kennedy. He was a drive-by golfer, rarely playing more than six or eight holes. But if Kennedy played a full 18, his average score would have been about an 80, qualifying him as the best of the presidential golfers. Although he suffered from chronic back pain from osteoporosis, watching him swing a golf club, you would never know he was hurting. Kennedy glided from hole to hole, making impossible shots look easy, flashing that winning smile in the face of the game's treacherous snarl.
Because rumors of J.F.K.'s extramarital affairs followed him from the Senate to the White House, some reporters assumed that Kennedy was spending time with beautiful women when he was actually often puttering around the famous Maryland clubs of Chevy Chase or Burning Tree. "Only after Kennedy's afternoon disappearances became the subject of wild rumors was the story officially confirmed: Yes, Kennedy was a pretty good golfer, " said Pierre Salinger, J.F.K.'s press secretary.
On April 5, 1961, in a photograph published on the front page of the New York Times, Americans got their first glimpse of President Kennedy on the golf course. Clad in a white polo shirt, khaki pants and loafers, he is standing on the first tee of the Palm Beach Country Club, flanked by his father and two of his brothers-in-law, Stephen Smith and Peter Lawford. But there is something odd about the photograph: unlike his father, Kennedy is not holding a club. Not long after the picture was taken, the President teed off and hit a Secret Service agent in the head. The incident inspired one of J.F.K.'s favorite golf quips: "It is true that my predecessor did not object, as I do, to pictures of one's golf skill in action. But neither, on the other hand, did he bean a Secret Service man."
By the summer of 1963, it was clear Americans had decided not to penalize Kennedy for his passion for golf. J.F.K. even felt confident enough to begin publicly trying to improve his handicap. He hired Cecil Stoughton, the White House photographer, to take some 8-mm film as he played at Hyannis Port, Mass. Stoughton's film shows the beauty of Kennedy's swing off the tee and his deadly touch on the greens.
The film was intended for Arnold Palmer, the pro whom Kennedy admired most. Kennedy wanted Palmer to watch the film and help tinker with the mechanics of the presidential swing. Kennedy invited Palmer to come to the White House for a golf lesson in early December 1963, after a quick campaign trip to Dallas.