The row President Bill Clinton recently created when he called out to his ball after an errant shot, "Don't go too far right! Sit down, Alice!" is a sad commentary on the state of journalism in the U.S. American reporters may be able to decipher the arcane language of the Taxpayer Relief Act with aplomb, but if Tony Blair, Britain's prime minister, had blurted out a plea to Alice, one could wager that the British press—seven the pesky tabloids—would not nave turned the remark into a national incident. After all, every duffer in the U.K. knows who Alice is, and she is not, as Clinton's deputy press secretary, Barry Toiv, attempted to explain, the President's onetime budget director Alice Rivlin.
No, Mr. Clinton was definitely not thinking about Ms. Rivlin when he uttered his now famous command in Martha's Vineyard. Nor was he being horribly politically incorrect, as many among the American press corps suspected. I know this for a simple reason: I am Alice. Or more precisely, Alliss.
My surname entered the lexicon of golf several decades ago, but not because of the brilliance of my game—though I did play on eight European Ryder Cup teams. My name became famous for something that happened at the 1963 Ryder Cup at East Lake Country Club in Atlanta, during my singles match against Arnold Palmer. I beat him, one up, but not before I yanked a three-foot putt along the way and someone snidely called out, "Nice putt, Alliss."
I didn't say the words myself, and didn't hear who did, but they were certainly said and now are part of the lingua franca of golf. The BBC, for whom I now do golf commentary, played a large part in burning the phrase into the public consciousness. I was never renowned for my putting and therefore was an easy—and frequent—target for the many comedy programs on the Beeb, where great humor was found in such knee-slappers as "That girl Alliss sure hits it a long way."
My feeling, though, is that Alliss is a very good name, and Mr. Clinton should feel no need to apologize for calling his ball Alliss, or Alice, if you will. All the Allisses, and Alices, that I have met are wonderful people, and quite formidable.
For 25 years the license plate on my Bentley has read PUT 3, in deference to my horrible putting. However, I'm thinking of changing to something a bit more clever. How does RIVLIN sound?