Neil Oxman's real bag

Posted: July 23, 2009

POLITICAL guru Neil Oxman unwinds by seeing more than 230 movies a year - in theaters. Ask him about "Caddyshack," and he'll tell you it's one of the 100 greatest comedies ever made. A "four-plus stars" movie, he told me this week from England.

No surprise. Last weekend, he was in the middle of one of the greatest golf moments of all time. Oxman was on the best bag in the house - Tom Watson's - at the British Open. He estimates it's the 50th tournament he's spent at Watson's side.

Oxman, the Pennsylvania-based, nationally recognized political consultant, is also among a close-knit fraternity of pro golfers and caddies who've been walking the course since the 1970s. Before golf was a huge money sport. Before Tiger began hunting the Golden Bear.

The co-founder of the Campaign Group, the outfit that came up with the ad that featured Mayor Nutter's daughter, Olivia, has been caddying for professional ball strikers since he was 18.

He caddied his way through Villanova, then Duquesne law school. He estimates that he's worked with 25 or 30 players. He's been to the Masters and the U.S. Open.

"Everybody who knows me - my real friends in the world - knows I don't define myself as a political person. I define myself as a caddy. That's how I think of myself, and that's who I am," he told me.

At second glance, that's probably not surprising. For all his accomplishments in the political realm, Oxman has similarly heady experiences on the course.

He was at Watson's side when the five-time British Open winner was paired with Jack Nicklaus when the Golden Bear played his final round at the British Open at St. Andrew's in 2005. No doubt Oxman was close when the two competitors and friends posed for pictures in front of the huge gallery that surrounded the 18th fairway.

And he was nearby again on the weekend when Watson looked like a guy poised to win his sixth British Open. Carrying the sticks as Watson shot a first-round 65. Scoreboard-watching on the giant old-school leaderboards that line Turnberry's Ailsa Course. Fighting the winds that piled strokes onto the scores of player after player.

Oxman was there on Sunday for that ill-fated putt on 18. It was "the defining moment" of his life, he told me. He was so consumed thinking about it that he drove from Scotland to London to settle himself.

He's not the only one. His peers on the links, guys whose opinions on life and golf Oxman clearly respects, understand the magnitude of what happened last weekend.

"One very well-known, serious, major international superstar golfer came up to me and hugged me and started crying and then walked away . . . and composed himself and came back," he said.

Meanwhile, Oxman said, Watson has taken his cue from Nicklaus in the aftermath of his second-place finish. "What he learned from Jack was how amazingly gracious Jack is when he loses . . . And not to slam around - you know, the things you see in sports today. And he's been terrific about it," he said.

Not unlike a candidate having to make a conciliatory speech at an election-night gathering of supporters. Except that Oxman doesn't buy the parallel between campaigns and caddying.

Modern campaigning, he told me, leaves little room for surprises. Bigger, more financially resourceful campaigns poll early, often and sometimes every night in the days before an election. So rarely is the outcome a surprise.

But in golf, he said, "you don't know what's going to happen from one second to the next. You don't know what's going to happen from one bounce to the next, or one roll of the ball.

"This would have gone down as one of the half-dozen most important things in the history of golf.

"And all of the sudden, eight minutes or 10 minutes or 12 minutes later, you're now in a playoff with Stewart Cink. And so it's different than campaigns and the consolation you do in campaigns."

That isn't surprising. In his other life as political guru, Oxman isn't accustomed to losing.

Listen to Michael Smerconish weekdays 5-9 a.m. on the Big Talker, 1210/AM. Read him Sundays in the Inquirer. Contact him via the Web at www.smerconish.com.

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