There is a saying that if you want to find the measure of a person, play a round of golf with them. In four hours you will see how they deal with success, failure, and adversity, both their own and others. Are they patient, considerate? Do they act differently when they think no one is watching? Do they cheat and own up to it, cheat on the sly, or count every stroke and follow every rule? Now, guess what you might learn if you played a round with Donald Trump.
Rick Reilly made his name as a sports columnist for Sports Illustrated and ESPN. He has known Trump for 30 years and has played golf with him on numerous occasions, and has searched out and talked to dozens of others who have done the same. The picture painted by all (except the ones currently on the President’s payroll) is the same. Trump is a fun guy to play with. He is better than you expect but not nearly as good as he claims. He is full of great stories and even fuller of something else. As Reilly says early in his new book, “Commander in Cheat: How Golf Explains Donald Trump” (Hachette Books): “Trump does golf the way he does his presidency. The rules are for other people.”
When asked to review Reilly’s book, I thought it would be a quick, harmless, little read, and I could have some fun with it. It was quick, but it was not fun.
I’ve known for a long time the depravity of Donald Trump. I just didn’t care. His antics were no concern of mine. I would avoid ever staying in one of his hotels or playing one of his golf courses, or watching him on television, simply because I didn’t want to reward him for his behavior. He is a pathological bull-crapper who will say and do anything to make a buck. Not unusual among real estate developers or billionaire wannabees of all sorts. So I just ignored him.
Then all of a sudden he becomes leader of the free world and pretty hard to ignore. A book review is a straightforward assignment. Not particularly hard, but this was hard. Why? Because Rick Reilly documents another 50 reasons, all revolving around the game of golf, that Trump is not suited not only to be President, but allowed outside a mental health facility without escort—yet none of it matters.
Reilly’s account provides people who are predisposed to dislike the man with plenty of justification for their beliefs, while those who support him will somehow turn Trump’s behavior into a sign of strength rather than mental illness.
Trump runs his golf businesses like all of his other ventures. He buys properties on the cheap, claims to have spent ten times what he actually does to turn the course into “the best in the state” or “the best in the country,” then trumpets, “That’s not just me saying that. Everyone is saying that.”
No, as a rule, it is just Donald telling everyone how great his courses are. He does not own a single course that is ranked in the top 100 in the U.S..
He hires respected architects and craftsmen and has them build opulent clubhouses and courses and then he doesn’t pay them. He pays some here and there but when the job is done, and the full bill is due, he simply says, or has his lawyers say, “I’ve paid enough already.” They get offered 40 or 50 cents on the dollar and often even this doesn’t get paid. We are not talking millionaires here. Architects, carpenters, plumbers, painters. Trump knows these people are too small to absorb a court fight, so he simply offers them an absurdly low amount and tells them to take a hike. Basically a contract with Trump is toilet paper. His signature as worthless as an autograph to a fan.
On the other hand, if you do have the resources to sue him you are very likely to win. He is almost always in the wrong, but bullies, denies, and delays, hoping your determination or funds run out of steam. If he loses, he never admits he lost. Just says he “settled.”
The book is most entertaining when detailing how Trump cheats. Reilly got the caddies at Trump’s courses to speak as long as he didn’t name them. (If you help him cheat, you tend to be sufficiently rewarded).
This is a typical round of golf with Trump. He is always in a cart and mostly alone or with a caddie. Why do you need a caddie if you are in a cart? Be patient we’ll get to that.
The people he plays with are in other carts, but Trump has his carts rigged to go much faster than the others. (“He who has the fastest cart never has a bad lie” —Mickey Mantle.) Etiquette in golf is generally you play your shots in a certain order and you wait for all to hit before you head off to your next shot. Not in Trumpistan. He hits and takes off.
No matter what direction the ball headed off in, or into which body of water it dropped, by the time the rest of the group arrives the back on the fairway or on the green. He has a caddie because there are times he can’t do the dirty work for himself—the caddie is backup. The caddy has to run ahead and play eagle scout for Trump’s shots. If you want the job again next round, no ball shall be found to be in an unfortunate position by the time the other players arrive.
Trump has a lot of wedges in his bag. Foot wedge (nudging or outright kicking the ball to a more amenable position from which to hit—Trump has been nicknamed “Pele” by some caddies for such dexterity); pocket wedge (always having a second and third ball in your pocket, which falls discreetly to a place everyone in your group has searched three times already); hand wedge (same as foot); and, now that he is President, the Secret Service wedge. Yes, he has his taxpayer-funded security detail kick his ball back into play in between keeping an eye out for would-be assassins.
The thing is, I don’t have a problem with people who cheat at golf. The rules are rather draconian and are meant for people who play the game seriously, which is only about 10-15% of the golfing population. For the rest of the players, the rules can really interfere with their ability to enjoy the game. The caveat about breaking the rules, however, is you have to admit that you break the rules. You cannot break every rule in the book and then claim you are a 2.8 handicap, which is what Donald does, or claim you have won 18 club championships, which is what Donald does. It doesn’t work that way.
Trump likes to play with famous people so he can talk about who he played with the next time he plays. The problem is, he doesn’t have a lot of fans in the famous circle outside of Kid Rock and Chachi. Mostly he plays with Fox News personalities or Rush Limbaugh. PGA Tour pros, however, don’t seem to have a problem playing with Trump.
Here is an example of Trump in action on the course. He is playing with Brad Faxon, Dustin Johnson and Tiger Woods. He takes Faxon as his partner and wants to hit from the closer set of tees because they don’t hit it as far. The normal Trump cheating is going on, which everyone is so used to that it doesn’t even register. Then they come to a hole where Faxon and Trump are far enough away from the other team they can’t see what is going on. Woods hits his second shot a foot from the hole for a birdie three. Trump hits his second shot into the water. Trump hits his next shot into the water and then finally gets one on the green 20 feet from the hole. They all reach the green and Trump calmly states he’s putting for the tie. He was actually putting for seven.(Missed anyway.)
Faxon said it was incredible how comfortable he was with his cheating. It is so outrageous it’s funny.
This is a recurring theme in the book. Most everyone who has played golf with Trump views it as a positive experience. It basically sounds like you are playing with the Rodney Dangerfield character from Caddyshack. Lots of stories that are mostly untrue but entertaining. Cheating that is so over the top that you can’t help but laugh and shake your head knowing you will head home with some great stories of your own.
One more anecdote which, if you are a golfer, will give you a sense of how much a sense of entitlement this man has. Next time you are at your computer killing time, Google “Trump driving golf cart across green.” Apparently, since he owns the course (and is a lazy arse), and a cheater who rarely putts out, he has been known to drive his cart right onto the green, scoop up his ball and head on over to the next tee, which he will also drive on if he feels like it. If you are not a golfer, the equivalent to this behavior would be the owner of a restaurant using the kitchen sink as a urinal during the dinner rush. It’s just not done.
By the way, about those “18 club championships” Trump has touted over and over to prove to his adoring crowds how much of a “winner” he is. This is how he has won some. One time he saw his head pro putting up the plaque with that year’s winner on it and Trump tells him that he beats that guy all the time(lie), so put my name on there instead. On another occasion, while the club championship was going on at one of his courses, he was playing out-of-state at another. When he got back and saw the score, he told the pro he shot 73 where he played so he is the winner again. Aside from the ridiculousness of the idea you can win from another state, word came back his score that day was closer to 90. Of the 18 winning claims, Reilly could verify: zero. How delusional do you have to be to claim 18?
What does it matter if Trump is the biggest cheater the game of golf has ever seen? What does it matter if he has played golf one out of every four days he has been in office, transferring $100 million or so directly from the taxpayers he cares so much about to his own pocket? (Every round he has played has been at a course he owns, and his whole entourage gets put up at his hotel while he is there.) What has this got to do with his presidency?
This is Reilly’s reason for writing his book: It has everything to do with this presidency.
“If you will cheat to win at golf, is it that much further to cheat to win an election? To turn a congressional vote? To stop an investigation? If you’ll lie about every aspect of the game, is it that much further to lie about your taxes, your relationships with Russians, your groping of women?”
I believe most humans are inherently good. I think our evolution and survival as a species relied on being able to trust each other. When someone didn’t uphold their end of the bargain, many people’s survival were at risk. Therefore the punishment for those unwilling to live by the code had to be severe enough that the few who had inklings of taking a little more for themselves thought twice about it.
When Trump isn’t held accountable for his actions in the business world, or his actions on the golf course, and is able to parlay this behavior into a position with almost absolute power, it changes the narrative as to what is acceptable in a civilized society.
Four years of this can help us understand the responsibilities we have in a democracy to be engaged and on guard against abhorrent behavior. Eight years of this and I fear we are doomed. ♦
John Piccolo is the golf instructor and runs Piccolo’s Custom Golf Shop at Eagle Valley Golf Club in Niagara Falls. Email your questions or comments to [email protected]
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