Golf Q&A with Condoleezza Rice: Breaking 80, two holes-in-one and Akron tips from Tiger

AKRON, Ohio — Former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice realized that before she arrives at Firestone Country Club next month, a call to her “good friend” Tiger Woods might be in order.

Rice made it clear that she’s not coming to Akron only to be honored on July 7 as the 2022 Ambassador of Golf during the Bridgestone Senior Players Championship.

Having watched PGA Tour events played underneath the iconic Firestone ball even before she took up golf 17 years ago, Rice has designs on playing the famed course, or perhaps the adjoining North or West courses. Who better to consult than Woods, an eight-time winner of the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational?

“You make a good point, maybe I had better call Tiger up and ask him how to navigate some of Firestone,” Rice said during a video teleconference during a recent media availability. “I will definitely be taking a look at the yardage books before I come out there, that’s something that I do. I just want to know, are there any forced carries that I should worry about? That’s my principal concern because my woods have a tendency to come out a little bit low.

“I might try to get Tiger to give me a few tips. Now I am a very good putter and I understand that the greens are a bit challenging, so I’m looking forward to that challenge.”

Rice, 67, is now a professor in global business and the economy and director of the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, which Woods attended for two seasons. She lives across the street from the Stanford golf course and serves as the faculty fellow for the women’s golf team that recently won the NCAA championship. That’s just one way she’s growing the game.

What follows is an edited portion of the Q&A with Rice from Bridgestone Senior Players media day.

Where did your passion for golf begin?

“I was a competitive figure skater as a kid. I skated from the age of 6 and I have wondered every day since why my parents didn’t put a golf club in my hand instead of skates on my feet. I actually came to the game really late. I had finished figure skating, played tennis for years and I went to the Greenbrier with my cousin on vacation. Her husband gave her golf lessons, gave me buddy lessons so I would go along, so she would go.

“The first two days of the camp they kept having us hit 7-iron, 7-iron, 7-iron. I thought, ‘This is absolutely as boring as I thought it was going to be.’ Then they put a driver in my hand and I was hooked. I was Secretary of State [from 2005-08], didn’t have much time, but I went out to Andrews Air Force Base and I found a pro named Allen Burton. I learned the basics and figured I’d really get serious about it when I came back to California.”

Who would be in your dream foursome?

“Well, I’ve had some pretty terrific foursomes in my life. I played a number of foursomes after we left office with President George W. Bush and you better be prepared to play fast. I can remember hitting a putt about eight feet past and he said, ‘That’s good.’ I said, ‘No, it’s not.’

Condoleezza Rice

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice talks to Tiger Woods on the 17th hole at the 2020 Genesis Invitational pro-am at Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, California. (Photo: Ryan Kang/Associated Press)

“I played with Tiger, he’s great fun to play with. But one of my absolute favorite foursomes is each year Bubba Watson and his wife Angie and my friend Lee Styslinger and I play on the Sunday before the Masters. Angie and I take on the boys and until this year we’ve been winning. This year Bubba sunk a putt on the 18th hole to win.”

Do you have a favorite round or a special day on the golf course?

“The first time I broke 80 is my favorite round. I played The Madison Club down in the desert in [La Quinta] California. I must have shot 80 15 times and I kept thinking I don’t know if I’m ever going to break 80. I was playing with three good friends, and we came to the 18th tee. See, golfers can remember these things and this is five years ago. There was water on the right and I hit the ball and I remember thinking, ‘Oh, my God, I think that might have gone in the water.’ I got up there and it was on just a little sliver, it didn’t go in the water, so that’s when I thought I might have a chance.

“I’ve had two holes-in-one, both on college courses, one at Notre Dame. We were getting ready to go to the Notre Dame-Michigan State game and I was playing with Muffett McGraw, the legendary Notre Dame basketball coach. I said, ‘We’re running late, it’s OK, I don’t really have to play 18.’ Her husband said, ‘No, no, no, it’s just a couple holes.’ First hole-in-one.

“My second hole-in-one was at Stanford. It was the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, I was playing with a good friend, weather was awful. I said, ‘We’ll just play four, five holes.’ Third hole, hole-in-one.”

Next week is the 50th anniversary of Title IX? What’s your experience been like working with the Stanford women’s team and seeing the change?

“I am a huge believer that Title IX is one of the best things that ever happened to our country. I was in college just as Title IX was coming into being and it hadn’t yet taken hold, and the difference in what it meant to be a woman in athletics at that time and what it means now is just night and day. I am so glad that we give opportunity to young women to develop the skills that you develop from being an intercollegiate athlete. I don’t mean the skills on the course or on the court, I mean the perseverance that it takes, the time management that it takes, the discipline that it takes, the team leadership that it takes. One of the things I’ve seen with these women’s golf teams is there’s always somebody there to pick the other one up if somebody’s down. That ability to be a leader and to be a great teammate is just something that you take with you into life.

Stanford's Mariah Stackhouse and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Stanford’s Mariah Stackhouse and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

“Title IX has given those opportunities. It’s not just giving the opportunities in colleges, but it’s having an effect on women’s sports in high schools and in elementary schools. I remember very well when I was a little kid, my dad wanted me to play basketball but he could actually never convince me that it made sense to dribble. It always made more sense to me just to run with the ball, that was so much more efficient. Now, obviously, I could have played in the NBA because that’s basically what they do all the time.

“Title IX has given those opportunities. It’s not just giving the opportunities in colleges, but it’s having an effect on women’s sports in high schools and in elementary schools. I remember very well when I was a little kid, my dad wanted me to play basketball but he could actually never convince me that it made sense to dribble. It always made more sense to me just to run with the ball, that was so much more efficient. Now, obviously, I could have played in the NBA because that’s basically what they do all the time.

How can we get youth, especially in Cleveland and Akron, more involved in the game?

“I really hope that we can make golf fun … things like The First Tee, they’re very good at it. I love Youth on Course as another way to involve kids, including as caddies. I had an experience a few months ago at my club. This young man, now very tall and well groomed and working at the club, came up and said, ‘You probably don’t remember me, but I was your Youth on Course caddie when I was 14.’ What I remember about him was that he didn’t have any concept of golf at all. He barely knew when I said I’d like my 8-iron, I had to go over and find it, but we got along well together.

“Now he has a very good job at the club. Comes from difficult circumstances. So if we can have more opportunities for kids like that, I think you’ll see more kids flowing into it.

“I also think accessibility to courses is an issue because just standing on a driving range and hitting balls isn’t that much fun. Going on a course is really fun. Is it possible for scholarships for kids to go to camps? When the days are long like they are now, could courses let kids on the course at 6:00 til 7:30? Some of the best golfers that I know, some of the Stanford women’s golfers will tell you that when they were little kids, they would just go out to the course after school and they would be out there until dark.

“We’ve got to give them more opportunity and more access. It’s still a game that has some barriers of accessibility, of expense and of not having people who you know play the sport. If we can get kids to have buddies who are playing the sport, I think you’ll see them play more.”

What made you want to help grow the game of golf?

“I really think back to when I was a kid growing up in segregated Birmingham, Alabama. My dad was a great athlete. He was a three-sport letterman in college football, basketball and tennis. It never occurred to him to play golf because that just wasn’t the possibility in Birmingham, Alabama. So many people don’t get that opportunity because the game has in the past been expensive, exclusive, hard to find a place to play, and where frankly there were color barriers that had to be broken.

Condoleezza Rice

Former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice shakes hands with Erika Rodriguez as KPMG’s Lynn Doughtie and Ayana Davis look on. (Courtesy of the WGA)

“I look at a person like Charlie Sifford, I look at Lee Elder, who I knew pretty well. This was not easy. I was just talking with somebody about this. We looked to Jackie Robinson, amazing story, but there are Brooklyn Dodgers fans who wanted him to win, who wanted him to be good. Can you imagine the loneliness if you’re out on one of these golf courses if you’re Lee Elder if people don’t think you should be there?

“I always thought of growing the game of golf as giving access to this wonderful, wonderful sport for people who might not have it, who might not have even thought about it because of some of the barriers to entering it.”