“The Freudians tell us to beware of recounting our dreams lest we betray our hidden infamies,” wrote Presbyterian minister J.A. MacCallum in the October 1923 North American Review. “Golf is, however, a much simpler key to character than dreams for it requires no technique to interpret the telltale facts it brings out into the light of common day.”
The infamies of Donald Trump have been a boon to the American publishing industry. Scarcely a month goes by without some fresh expose hitting the shelves. But no one, so far, has shed more light on the president’s character than Rick Reilly in his new book “Commander in Cheat — How Golf Explains Trump”.
Reilly is a respected chronicler of the game. Not only has he played with Trump himself, he has spoken to dozens of pros, celebrities and others who have shared, and continue to share, that dubious honour, as well as their caddies. Even the enabling golf buddies who profess to like The Donald concede that his behaviour is every bit as egregious on the course as off. But he amuses them.
He’s no duffer. Ernie Els says his handicap should be between 8 and 9; Annika Sorenstam thinks 9 or 10. Both have played with him. Most 72-year-olds would be happy with those numbers. But Trump himself, on the basis of the scores and slopes (course difficulty ratings) he selectively submits to the US Golf Association’s online handicapping computer, claims to be a 2.8.
The same system gives Jack Nicklaus a 3.4. As Reilly puts it, “If Trump is a 2.8, Queen Elizabeth is a pole vaulter.”
It’s not just that he routinely improves his lie — at Wingfoot the caddies call him Pele out of respect for his footwork — or awards himself mulligans on every shot to the flag or gives himself gimmes on the green with a couple of metres still to go. That’s petty larceny next to the other stunts he pulls.
He likes to escape the gaze of his foursome, so insists, whether or not it’s his honour, on teeing off first on every hole then racing down the fairway in his cart with caddy in tow before the rest have swung their drivers. This, according to a regular partner, allows him to drop his ball into the cup when he thinks no one is is looking, then pull it out and shout delightedly to his trailing companions that he has chipped in for birdie.
He requires his caddy to play Oddjob to his Goldfinger, “finding” balls that would in reality only be retrievable with snorkel and flippers. LPGA player Suzann Petterson, a Trump friend, told Reilly Trump must pay his caddy well. “No matter how far he hits his ball into the woods it’s always in the middle of the fairway when we get there.”
An ESPN sportscaster, Mike Tirico, told Reilly how on a blind par 5 he hit the shot of his life, a 210 metre 3-wood, onto the green, only to find it in the bunker when he arrived to putt. “Lousy break,” Trump told him. Tirico ended up with a 7 rather than a possible 4. Trump’s caddy later told him his ball had been 3 metres from the pin and that Trump had picked it up and thrown it into the sand.
Trump is not the first president to prevaricate on the links. Bob Woodward records how Bill “Slick Willy” Clinton in 1993 carded an 80 in a round with Gerald Ford and Nicklaus, enraging both men. Nicklaus whispered to Ford, “80 with 50 floating mulligans.” Richard Nixon was also said to improve a lie or two. But Trump’s cheating is in a pathological class of its own. Who knew?