WASHINGTON (AFP) – A high-stakes golf match teed off Saturday outside Washington -- not the nearby US Open, but a first-ever round between President Barack Obama and his most powerful Republican critic.
While Obama and House speaker John Boehner are on par in their appreciation for birdies and bogeys, they have been at loggerheads over several wedge issues including taxes, spending cuts, and operations in Libya.
But few sports allow people to settle their differences like golf does.
Long walks or cart rides between shots should foster an intimacy that the White House suggests may be useful, with the two leaders relishing the opportunity to discuss key national issues while on the links.
"This is an opportunity that I think has value beyond the game," White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters on Friday.
But he admitted that while politics -- specifically a showdown between Obama and Boehner over raising the $14.29 trillion debt ceiling -- would be a subtext to Saturday's Obama Invitational, in-depth talks were unlikely.
"I think I can say with great confidence that they will not wrap up the 18th hole and come out and say that we have a deal," Carney said this week.
But "spending a number of hours together in that kind of environment I think can only help improve the chances of bipartisan cooperation," he said.
"It certainly can't hurt it, unless someone wins really big."
There's a chance of that, if average stroke score is anything to go by.
Boehner is among Capitol Hill's best golfers, with a 7.9 handicap, according to Golf Digest.
Obama, with a 17 handicap, is not in that league, but he has recruited a ringer of sorts -- his playing partner is Vice President Joe Biden (6.3 handicap), who has been handling bipartisan debt ceiling talks.
Obama has another advantage in that they're playing on his home course at Andrews Air Force base.
Boehner recruited Ohio Republican Governor John Kasich, reportedly an eight handicap, to round out the foursome.
While the White House has stressed that the outing is a "social" occasion, Boehner said last week that he was intrigued at the prospect of using his handicap advantage to help whittle down Washington spending.
"Mr. President, you can have all the strokes you want, it'll just cost you a trillion dollars a stroke," he quipped.