June 17, 2011 — -- The world's top golfers are hitting the links in Washington this weekend at the U.S. Open, but the real power players will be on a different course in the nation's capital. On Saturday, President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner will put aside their partisan differences and face off on the green instead.
After weeks of tense negotiations on Capitol Hill have yielded little progress on raising the debt ceiling, expectations for the so-called "Deficit Open" are running high. But don't expect a deal to be made during the much-anticipated game.
"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," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters this week.
The White House is playing up the event as social, but doesn't deny that it could have political implications.
"I think that for the broader purpose of the work that needs to be done in a bipartisan way in Washington, this social occasion is a good thing," Carney said, "because ... spending a number of hours together in that kind of environment, I think, can only help improve the chances of bipartisan cooperation. It certainly can't hurt it, unless someone wins really big."
While the press secretary assured reporters there's been no trash talk from the president this week, he also tempered expectations.
"It's fair to say that the president enjoys golf and plays it when he can, but I don't think that he would say that he is an expert golfer. And I hear that the speaker of the House is quite good," Carney said, noting that the president's handicap is "classified."
Golf Digest's annual rankings of prominent Washington players has Boehner ranked 43. Obama comes in at 108.
The speaker and Obama have been trying to get together on the course for months and both will bring their own ringer. Obama has, appropriately, chosen Vice President Joe Biden as his partner, while the speaker is bringing along Ohio Gov. John Kasich.
The venue for the much-anticipated golf game continues to be a secret, largely out of security concerns.
"My lips are sealed," Carney joked.
Obama's love of golf is well documented.
"The president plays golf because, I think, a lot of presidents who occupy this house and this West Wing look for ways to literally get outdoors where you're not surrounded by people," Carney said. "I think the process itself is one he enjoys as much as the game, which he does enjoy."
Only three presidents since the turn of the 20th century did not play golf -- Presidents Hoover, Truman and Carter. But unlike many before him, who used the time on the links to forge political deals, Obama prefers to golf with close friends and staffers.
While the president and the speaker have a functional working relationship, nobody would call them buddies. Could 18 holes bring them closer together?
Boehner told CBS' "60 Minutes" last year that golf is a great way to get to know someone.
"You start trying to hit that little white ball, you can't be somebody that you're not, because all of you shows up," he said.
The White House agrees.
"This is simply an effort to get together outside of an office, outside of the normal venues that presidents and speakers of the House tend to get together," Carney said, "and develop further the relationship that the president and the speaker already have developed in the many meetings and conversations they've had already."