Rory Sabbatini would adore her. There are no waggles, no long pre-shot routine.

"It's my life," explains Barbara Kennelly, a former Democratic congresswoman from Connecticut. "I make decisions very quickly."

Some decisions appear, in retrospect, to be wiser than others. Early in her round at Bull Run Golf Club in Haymarket, Kennelly recalls one that did not turn out very well.

"Running against an incumbent in good times, it was absolutely insane," says Kennelly, referring to her unsuccessful 1998 bid to dethrone Connecticut Gov. John Rowland. "It was awful. I can't tell you how awful it was. Awful is getting up in the morning and knowing that you're not going to win. I was ahead in the polls when I announced, and that was the best day I had."

On the course, she is far from awful. On No. 8, a 282-yard par 4, she nails an 8-iron approach from 130 to within 20 feet, two-putting for par. A few holes later, she hits her drive 175 and straight. "There we go," she says after one satisfying shot. "It's coming back."

These days, Kennelly is trying to salvage more than her game. As president of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, she is strongly opposed to President Bush's proposal to revamp the system, primarily the idea of establishing private investment accounts. In her view, the president miscalculated that, because their benefits wouldn't be cut, citizens 55 and older wouldn't oppose his plan.

"If you're a 70-year-old woman and you have a 47-year-old daughter with a couple of kids and things haven't gone well, you know she's going to need it," she says. "So you're out there, banging away, saying, 'No, I don't want to dismantle Social Security.' "

Kennelly, 69, served in Congress for 17 years, giving up her seat when she ran for governor. She was only the third woman ever to serve on the House Ways and Means Committee and the first, in the late 1980s, on the House intelligence committee. Yet, as much as she values her experiences on Capitol Hill, she doesn't look back.

"You miss it at the beginning," acknowledges Kennelly, whose father, John Bailey, was chairman of the Democratic National Committee from 1961 to 1968. "I missed it dreadfully. You get over it, just as you get over everything. I'm very fortunate. I lobby, so I see a lot of my old friends."

She took up golf around seventh grade. In college, she shot in the high 80s and low 90s. But because of her family responsibilities and the fact that her late husband, James, didn't play, she gave it up for 23 years, focusing instead on tennis. After about a year in Congress, though, Kennelly recognized golf was a great way to become better acquainted with the members of the Ways and Means Committee.

"When we were doing tax reform in 1986, we'd stay weekends and play often," says Kennelly, a 27-handicapper. "How would you hear what was going on if you weren't there?"

Before she announced her run for governor, Kennelly was invited to Martha's Vineyard to play golf with President Clinton. To prepare, she took lessons for five straight days.

Clinton offered his own advice -- about a different game, that is.

"We had a big discussion on why I shouldn't run for governor," she recalls. " 'You're in a good position where you are. Why would you jeopardize it?' But I didn't hear it as clearly as now I realize it."

Sometimes she wished she had displayed the courage to use a mulligan, telling voters that she had changed her mind about challenging Rowland. Then again, she says, "I've never been a quitter."

Former Connecticut congresswoman Barbara Kennelly, a 27-handicapper, tees off at Bull Run Country Club in Haymarket.