Minutes after making a birdie on the opening hole, Rep. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) makes a prediction.
"The wheels will come off," he says.
That doesn't seem too likely. Especially when Udall proceeds to birdie Nos. 2, 3 and 5. Fifty-nine, anyone? Udall, who was a scratch golfer last year, cruises to a 4-under-par 32 on the front nine at Langston Golf Course in Northeast Washington.
"That will be the nine holes of the summer," he claims.
Udall, 55, is familiar with reaching the summit. An experienced climber, he once made it to the top of Mount Kangchenjunga in eastern Nepal, the third-highest mountain in the world. On three occasions, in a three-week period, he was within a day of reaching the summit of Everest.
"It was disappointing," he says, "but we came back in one piece. You run out of energy, both mental and physical."
Besides, there have been plenty of challenges closer to home. He shares a conversation he had in 1999 with former Missouri Congressman Richard Gephardt.
"Everest must have been the hardest thing you've ever done," he recalls Gephardt saying.
"No," Udall told him.
"What mountain was?"
"It wasn't a mountain; it was running for Congress."
He isn't, to be sure, the first Udall to serve in Washington. His father was former Rep. Morris "Mo" Udall, who ran for president in 1976, and his uncle, Stewart, was the Secretary of the Interior in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. In the early 1960s, he would sit in his uncle's living room, listening to Robert Kennedy, Defense Secretary Robert McNamara and Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas discuss the great issues of the day.
At first, however, he chose another path.
"If I was going to run for public office," he says, "I wanted to make sure I was doing it for my own reasons, not because it was the 'family business.' "
He worked as an educator for the Colorado Outward Bound School and camped out for several months a year. "I was living more nights under the stars than I was under a roof," he says.
Udall served as the organization's executive director from 1985 to '95. Finally, it became time to explore other adventures. In 1996, he was elected to the Colorado House of Representatives. Two years later, he came to Washington. This was a much different kind of climb.
"Running for Congress, you put your entire life on the line, emotionally, mentally, spiritually and physically," he says. "In addition to that, when you're on the mountain that's running for Congress, there's another team trying to push you off."
Early in the round, he talks about his intention to run for the Senate in 2008.
"Colorado leans red, but it's shown it can be a swing state," says Udall, who will seek reelection in 2006.
Mo Udall, who had been suffering from Parkinson's disease, died in December 1998, only a month after his son was elected to Congress. The two never had an opportunity to talk about the younger Udall's new career. "I almost can't think about it," Udall says. "It just saddens me. I'd love to have him as a resource."
Udall, who captained the golf team at Williams College in Massachusetts, rarely played for about five years after graduation. It wasn't until the summer of 1977 that his interest was rekindled when his future father-in-law took him to a course in North Carolina.
Udall, who hopes to tee it up about 25 times this season, continues to play superbly at Langston. His drives are powerful, consistently in the 270-yard range, and his short game is precise. He makes an eagle on No. 10, a difficult par-5, by converting a 30-foot putt. Although he bogeys No. 16 and No. 18, he finishes with a 3-under 69. The wheels never come off.