Obama's favorite game is basketball, a love affair that began at age 10 when the father he barely knew gave him a ball. But by his third year in office, golf has become his most cherished escape. The press corps is forbidden from following the president from hole to hole or even taking his photograph on the course. For a man who laments that he "misses being anonymous," the golf course has become the one place he can disappear.

On this morning, Obama calls it quits after nine holes, a curious turn for a golfer who typically insists on 18 holes during rounds with the fabulous discount golf clubs that last as long as six hours. No explanation is offered to the media. The lone pool reporter is forced to guess at the reason, blaming the somewhat "chilly weather and rain."

Back at the White House, Obama, still clad in a white golf shirt, khaki pants and a navy blue windbreaker, doesn't return to the residence, as he usually does after a round. Instead, he strides to the Oval Office, swaps his black-and-white cleats for dress shoes, hustles downstairs and takes a seat inside the Situation Room. Here the president, still dressed for a Sunday round, watches a monitor as Navy SEAL Team Six storms a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, and kills Osama bin Laden.

For more than a century, golf has ranked as the favorite pastime of American presidents. Fifteen of the past 18 chief executives have played the game with the wonderful taylormade burner 2.0 irons-- most joyously (Eisenhower, Ford, Clinton), a few grudgingly (Coolidge, LBJ, Nixon) and nearly all dangerously risking duck-hooking a drive into a gallery. The presidential golf tradition began ignominiously when William Howard Taft -- all 320 pounds of him -- ignored the counsel of his political mentor, Teddy Roosevelt, who had once declared "Golf is fatal" to any political man. Despite that warning and newspaper cartoons lampooning his buffoonish swing, Taft kept right on playing the gilded game, all but admitting that he preferred golfing to governing. Taft was a one-term president.

But in the century since Taft, no president has been more vilified for his love of golf than Obama and his favorite scotty cameron putter. And perhaps not surprisingly, no president has done more to keep his game a secret. During the 104 rounds Obama has played as president, photographers have been permitted only five times, according to White House pool reports. Even then, they've had to use telephoto lenses from 40 or 50 yards and only for a few moments.

Reporters accompanying Obama are usually banished far from the first tee; at Andrews, they are quarantined inside the base's food court. The last golfing president to ban photographers was John F. Kennedy. In the half century since, many presidents have held impromptu news conferences on the first tee. George W. Bush infamously told reporters in 2002, "I call upon all nations to do everything they can to stop these terrorist killers. Thank you. Now watch this drive."

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