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'You're guarding the president'

No, it wasn't a Secret Service detail for PGA Tour pro Parker McLaughlin. He was in a pickup game of basketball with Barack Obama.

February 19, 2009|BILL DWYRE

So, Parker McLachlin, former UCLA golf star, winner of last year's Reno-Tahoe Open, competitor in this week's Northern Trust Open at Riviera, what did you do in the off-season?

Oh, you went from your home in Scottsdale, Ariz., to visit your parents in Hawaii in December? That's nice. Always good to go back to the roots, be with family for the holidays.

Do anything interesting, or just kind of hang out?

A lot of sports stuff? Of course. That would be expected, with a dad who was a high school volleyball and basketball coach off and on for 35 years and a mom who was the captain of the 1976 U.S. Olympic volleyball team. Not to mention a brother who is 6 feet 7 and plays on Stanford's volleyball team.

Pretty intimidating group, even for a guy who made $1.3 million on the PGA Tour last year.

Any highlights, other than great seafood and temperatures in the 80s every day on Oahu?

Ah, great home cooking, played some pickup basketball with a guy named Barry while a bunch of Secret Service guys watched closely, and then headed back to the beach for the day, and . . .

Wait a minute. A guy named Barry? Secret Service?

"My dad was Barack Obama's high school basketball coach in '78-79," McLachlin says. "All the guys just called him Barry. That's how they knew him."

McLachlin got to know the president-elect of the United States pretty quickly himself that day. Obama, on vacation before his inauguration as our 44th commander in chief, had McLachlin's father, Chris, put together a reunion pickup game.

"We got a text message about 6:45 one morning," McLachlin says. "It said: 'Game on, 10 a.m.' Off we went, to Punahou High. My dad had asked ahead of time if he could include his two sons if this came off. The answer was yes."

McLachlin, 29, says the scene was as far from coat-and-tie political stuffiness as it could be.

"These guys were ripping on the president," McLachlin says, "and he was ripping on them right back. To them, he was just Barry, one of their classmates."

McLachlin says they shot around for about half an hour and he got to meet Obama.

"He was impressive, real genuine," McLachlin says. "He looked you in the eye, listened to you. He seemed genuinely interested in you."

Obama made sure he didn't exclude McLachlin from the ribbing.

"He took one look at my shoes -- I just had tennis shoes; why would I travel with basketball shoes? -- and he got on me. When we played, he took another look at me and said, 'I'll guard the golfer with the tennis shoes.' "

By the time McLachlin got to play, Obama had already played two full-court games, first team to 21. McLachlin says Obama had scored four times in the first game and three in the second.

"He was a good player," McLachlin says. "He liked to drive the lane. He liked to get the ball on a fastbreak. He seemed to like to control things."

Thank God for that.

McLachlin, who says he was a decent high school player, a shooting guard -- "Much more shooting than guarding" -- failed to score.

"He shut me down. The president shut me down," he says.

McLachlin adds that Obama scored only once on him, that he guarded the president tough.

"He backed me down a couple of times," he says. "I've got to admit, it's a little weird, sticking your elbow in the back of the president of the United States. You don't get to do something like that every day."

Did he worry about injuring the leader of the Western world?


"I figured," McLachlin says, "that he can do his job even if he sprains an ankle or something. But if I get hurt, I can't play golf. I'm cooked."

McLachlin says they had a chance to chat a little more afterward.

"He said he was excited about playing more golf, that he liked the game," McLachlin says. "He said he'd have more time for it when his eight years were over. Then he said maybe it would be four years, if the economy stays in the tank."

Presidents don't usually call winners of the L.A. Open, now the Northern Trust. How about never.

But then . . .

You can just imagine, were McLachlin to win here Sunday, the phone ringing and the voice on the other end saying some words of congratulations and joking about a basketball rematch.

And then demanding McLachlin wear better shoes this time.



Northern Trust Open


at Riviera Country Club

TV: Today and Friday, the Golf Channel at noon. Saturday and Sunday, Ch. 2 at noon.

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