Q&A: Condoleezza Rice on catching the golf bug and joining Augusta National

Condoleezza Rice looks on during the Drive, Chip and Putt Championship at Augusta National in 2019.

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Condoleezza Rice was the U.S. Secretary of State from 2005 to 2009 and is currently the Director of the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.

You came to golf late. How did that happen?

It was [in 2006], the summer after I became Secretary of State. I went on vacation with my cousin at The Greenbrier in West Virginia. I had been a figure skater growing up and I’d always been athletic. Anyway, her husband gave us lessons, and the first day they had us hitting 7-iron, 7-iron, 7-iron, and I was so bored. The second day, they let us hit a driver and I knew I had found my new sport.

Ah, so it was the big dog.

Exactly. And when I returned to D.C. I would go out to [the course at] Andrews Air Force Base, and I found a pro there. When you’re Secretary of State, they shut down the front six and the back six and you can get out there and wander around. I fell in love with the game. It was my one chance to get outside and escape. If it was 37 degrees or above, I would be there.

You grew up in Birmingham in the ’50s and ’60s. I have to imagine that golf seemed like a game that wasn’t really welcoming to you.

We just didn’t think about it. My dad was a three-sport athlete and he wanted me to be a tennis player. But we moved to Denver when I was 12 so my parents could go to graduate school. You couldn’t go to the University of Alabama if you were Black. And I got into skating. It was high-priced childcare. Golf wasn’t in our line of sight, although my dad loved Arnold Palmer. And we would always watch the Masters.

Condoleezza Rice plays a shot at the 2018 celebrity challenge during the Ryder Cup in Paris.

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Speaking of which, in 2012 you were one of the first female members at Augusta National Golf Club. How important do you think that was for the sport and society in general?

It was absolutely an honor. It just speaks to the way that American institutions are still capable of change in ways that are good. I’ve often said that when the Founding Fathers said “We the People” they didn’t mean me. But now it does.

Where do you keep your green jacket?

It’s always at the club.

Any hairy tales from Amen Corner?

[Laughs] Let’s put it this way: number 12 is feast or famine.

In the 1990s, you served at provost at Stanford University, where you currently work. Did you ever meet Tiger Woods when he played on their golf team?

I first met Tiger Woods when he was a skinny freshman. The athletic director came in one day very excited and said, “Great news, Tiger Woods has committed to Stanford!” And I said, “Who’s Tiger Woods?” And he said, “He’s going to be the greatest golfer of all time.” I was like, “Okay, if you say so.”

Do you keep track of your handicap?

I do. My index this summer was down to 10. Right now, I think it’s 11.5. My goal is to have a single-digit index in the next year.

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Are there any courses on your bucket list?

I’m hoping I’m going to play Oakmont this fall. My friends and I went to Bandon Dunes this past June, I’d love to get back there.

Are there any lessons from the course that helped in being a stateswoman?

The biggest is patience. Things don’t always happen on a timeframe that is identical to the one that you would like. That’s certainly true in diplomacy. You have to be patient enough to keep working at it.

Have you played with George W. Bush?

All the time. He didn’t golf during the time he was president, because of the war. I’ve golfed with him several times in Dallas. Like his father, he plays really fast. A round does not take very long with him. He’s got a beautiful game. I golfed with President George H.W. Bush as well, and you have to be ready to start at 10 and be done by lunch.

Who would be in your dream celebrity foursome.

I want to play golf with Tom Brady, and he can choose the other two. I just can’t believe what he’s doing in the NFL at 44! I just like everything about him.

You’ve often been mentioned as a future Commissioner of the NFL. Does that appeal to you. And would you ever consider running for president?

The latter is a firm no. There is no part of me that wants to run for office. The NFL thing came up because people kept asking me, “Why don’t you run for president?” And I said, “I’d rather be Commissioner of the NFL.” That’s how that got started. It’s not really a burning desire. Maybe it would be fun for just one day.

What is the one change you’d make on that one day?

I’d change the pass interference rule. Too penal.

What is something that you’re good at that most people don’t know?

I’m a terrific cook.

What’s your signature dish?

Fried chicken.

What’s the secret to a great fried chicken?

Really hot oil, not much flour, don’t batter it.

What’s your most memorable golf shot?

I’ve had two holes in one. But that’s actually not my favorite shot. [In 2018] I played on the celebrity Ryder Cup team with Kurt Russel and Samuel L. Jackson and Michael Phelps. My partner was Kelly Slater. And I’ve never felt pressure like that, because when you walk off they say: United States 4, Europe 5. And suddenly you think, I didn’t make that putt for the United States. So we come to the second hole, a par-3, and I hit a 7-wood over the water to about 10 feet behind the pin, and we won the hole.

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