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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama hit the golf course on Monday with two Republican senators and a Democrat, part of an effort to advance his second-term agenda by having better relationships with Congress.
Obama, an avid golfer with a respectable 17 handicap, rarely takes politics to the greens, preferring instead to golf with friends and staffers far out of the sight of the reporters who travel with him.
But he has been trying harder in his second term with a schmooze offensive, reaching out to members of Congress whom he has blamed for thwarting proposals he believes would improve the economy.
"Most of the talk centered on the round of golf and not the latest round of legislative negotiations in Congress," a White House official said.
Playing the south course at the Andrews military base in suburban Washington, Obama paired up with Democrat Mark Udall of Colorado, the top-ranked golfer in Congress as measured by Golf Digest in 2011. The magazine estimated Udall's handicap at 2.
But the match was won by the Republicans. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia shot a hole-in-one on the par 3 11th hole. Chambliss, whose handicap is 7.4, was joined by Bob Corker, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who has a 2.1 handicap.
"With the major fiscal issues our country is facing, not to mention foreign relations issues around the world, anytime you can get the president's ear for a few hours, I think that's a good thing," said Corker, in a statement provided by his staff.
Obama has waged bitter fights with Congress over how best to tame the deficit and on proposed new gun control laws after December's school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut.
But the president has also been criticized for failing to work more closely with the Senate and House of Representatives. He has responded in recent months by hosting dinners and lunches with small groups of lawmakers from both parties to try to find common ground on issues.
Asked whether golf is conducive to conversation about deficit reduction, White House spokesman Jay Carney said: "Well, he's willing to try anything."
Obama golfed 113 times in his first term, according to Mark Knoller of CBS News, known for keeping statistics on the president.
He played with House Republican Speaker John Boehner (handicap: 7.9) in June 2011 and has played twice with Democratic Representative Jim Clyburn (11.3) from South Carolina, in August 2009 and again a year later, Knoller said.
So far in his second term, he has golfed about a dozen times, including his first-ever round with Tiger Woods, the world's top-ranked golfer.
Reporters protested about a lack of access to Obama after they were barred from that game.
Golf handicaps are a measure of ability and a lower handicap signifies a better player.
Reporting by Roberta Rampton; additional reporting by Steve Holland; Editing by Cynthia Osterman