The story of how Brad Faxon became golf buddies with former President George H.W. Bush
By T.J. Auclair
Golf runs deep in the blood of the Faxon family.
The most famous of the Faxon bunch is Brad, Rhode Island's eight-time PGA Tour winner, two-time Ryder Cup USA team member and current analyst on Fox's golf crew.
But if it wasn't for his grandfather, the late Ray Faxon, chances are Brad and wife, Dory, wouldn't have forged a friendship with President George H.W. Bush, which Brad calls, "the honor of my life."
It all goes back 16 years to 2002 in Boston and the Francis Ouimet Scholarship Fund Annual Banquet.
At that banquet, Ray Faxon -- at age 94 -- was the recipient of the Richard F. Connolly, Jr. Distinguished Service Award. He had been a successful financier and business executive, who generously helped thousands with his good fortune. As a teen in the 1920s, Ray worked as a caddie on Cape Cod and eventually started caddie camps there.
He later endowed a college scholarship through the Francis Ouimet Fund – the largest in the fund’s history – to assist Cape Cod students who worked at local golf clubs, hence the prestigious award.
When he delivered his acceptance speech at the banquet, many there said Ray "stole the show" from former President Bush, who was the principal honoree, receiving the Francis Ouimet Award for Lifelong Contributions to Golf, the first non-golfer bestowed the honor.
During the dinner, Brad presented President Bush -- an avid golfer -- with a replica of his "Brad Faxon Titleist Putter by Scotty Cameron."
"He was genuinely moved by that," Faxon remembers. "We met a couple times before at the 1995 and 1997 Ryder Cups. He knew who I was, but it was the first time he was around my family, Dory, my dad, my grandfather. As he's getting ready to leave that evening, he asked if Dory and I would like to go stay at Walker's Point -- his compound at Kennebunkport in Maine. We were like, 'Uh, of course!'"
Bush then delivered a line Faxon said he'll never forget.
"He told me, 'I'll have my people get in touch with your people,'" Faxon said, laughing. "I thought, 'my cell phone number is blocked and I don't have any people!'"
The next day, Faxon's cell phone rang. He saw that the call was coming from a blocked number and, not even thinking twice, answered.
"The person on the other end says, 'Hold for the President of the United States,'" Faxon said.
Before he could even process those words, Bush was on the phone.
"'Hi, Brad, it's George Bush.' I thought someone was joking with me," Faxon said. "How did he find me? He says, 'Hey, come up to Walker’s Point these two days.' I said yes, of course, without even looking at my schedule. It could have been any two days, really -- I wasn't going to pass up this invitation."
On the agreed upon day, Faxon and Dory took the 2 1/2-hour drive from Providence up to Kennebunkport. The plan was to have lunch with Mr. and Mrs. Bush, play a round of golf, have dinner, spend the night, have breakfast the next morning and then hit the road.
Faxon was blown away when he and Dory arrived at the gates of Walker's Point. The Secret Service said, "someone will meet you in the circular driveway when you get to the main house," and then let them through.
As the Faxons drove along the breathtaking coastline, admiring the views, they wondered which of the many cottages they saw along the way would be the one they'd stay in that night.
Finally, when they arrived at the main house, the "someone" waiting to meet them in the driveway was none other than Bush himself.
"He looked like the quintessential New Englander," Faxon recalled. "He had on a flannel shirt, khaki pants and topsiders. You know, at this time he's in his 70s, but spry as ever. He greets us and then tells us to pop the trunk. Then, No. 41 himself is grabbing our luggage. He says, 'George and Laura were here last week. You can stay in their room.'"
That would be then-sitting President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush.
So much for one of those cottages.
Following what Faxon remembered as "just a fantastic lunch," he and Bush drove over to nearby Cape Arundel Golf Club, a Walter Travis design, for a round with Joe O'Donnell -- founder of the Boston Culinary Group -- and Mark Plummer, regarded by many as Maine's best amateur player, a man who won the Maine Amateur 13 times -- finishing runner-up seven times -- between 1973 and 2015 and took Tiger Woods to the final hole of a semi-final match in the 1995 U.S. Amateur at Newport Country Club, a match Woods would win, 2 up.
At Cape Arundel, it was just going to be a casual round. Or, as casual a round as you can have with a former president.
"Cape Arundel is a short, quirky, little course," Faxon said. "The President had a reputation of loving to play quickly. He'd give the groups he played through a sleeve of balls. Once he got out of office, he was playing so much and said he 'got cheap.' Instead of giving the groups a sleeve of balls, he'd give them one ball for the group and they'd have to play the hole for it. It had the presidential seal and his signature on it."
Faxon shared a cart with Bush.
"Right from the jump, No. 41 starts giving me grief," Faxon said. "He told me it's a par 69 and the course record is a 62, but, 'we'd love to have a player like you break that record.'"
Faxon didn't want that kind of pressure. He was just thrilled to be in the company of the three men in his group and was looking forward to a relaxing afternoon.
But, after a fast start that included a 3 under front-nine and a few birdies early on the back nine, the course record was within reach for Faxon.
"I was 8 under going to the 18th tee," he said. "It was about a 400-yard par 4. I didn't know the course well, but hit a good drive and had about a wedge in. I hit it about 25 feet past the hole."
Word got back to the clubhouse that Faxon might set a new record and he was playing with Bush. So, a crowd had gathered behind the green.
Faxon stroked the 25-footer and it went about 2 feet past the hole.
"Most places, when you hit a putt that close to the hole, the other guys in the group just flick it back to you," Faxon said. "But they made me mark this one. I understood, I guess, because it was for the new record. I'd be lying though if I didn't admit I was thinking, 'I can't believe they're going to make me putt this thing.'"
With a steady rain falling, Faxon said Bush opened his umbrella and put it over Faxon's head for the moment of truth -- the new, course-record setting putt.
Faxon pulled the putter back and hit the ball. It hit the back of the cup, center-cut... but inexplicably bounced off the lip and came right back to his feet. Instead of setting a new record, he simply tied the record of 62.
Faxon said the only thing he could compare it to is what happened to journeyman pro Joe Daley at Q-School in 2000:
Immediately after the missed putt, Faxon said there was a strange, even uncomfortable silence until Bush chimed in -- disappointingly -- with, "Why did you do that?!"
Faxon said he laughed and said, "I didn't try to miss it!"
Faxon said that the crowd around the green may have thought it was a simple lip-out, instead of what he saw from his vantage point with the ball literally hitting the back of the cup and refusing to go in the hole.
"To this day, I can't believe that happened," Faxon said.
What happened next might just be the best part of this missed putt story.
"As we're walking off that 18th green, I overhear Mark Plummer talking," Faxon recalled. "He said, 'Man. When I shot my 62 here, they gave me 5-6 putts from that length during the round.' I was so mad!"
It might have been Faxon's first round at Cape Arundel with Mr. Bush, but it wasn't his last. He and Dory were invited back every year for the next 13 years.
"It was the honor of my life," Faxon said.
For three years in a row, Faxon shot 62. Finally, in the fifth year, he set the course record with a 61.
That record was short-lived, however.
"At that point, Mr. Bush was also inviting the Mickelsons up to Kennebunkport. Phil eventually shot a 60 for the record, but I heard he was given a few putts," said a still annoyed Faxon, playfully. "When I think back, all of this time spent and becoming friends with the Bush family was because of my grandfather getting that award in 2002."
For what it's worth, in 2015, Brad Faxon received the Francis Ouimet Award for Lifelong Contributions to Golf -- the same award Bush was presented on that night in 2002.
Jim Furyk, the 2018 Ryder Cup USA captain, will receive it this year.
"It's just an incredible, incredible honor," Faxon said.
Probably up there with one time having a piece of that Cape Arundel course record.