They Say Golf Is Like Life: “Trump Has to Win. And He’ll Do Anything It Takes”

President Trump has cancelled his weekend golf trip to Mar-a-Lago in Florida because of midnight’s possible government shutdown but Politico’s Jack Shafer says it’ll be golfing weather this weekend at Trump National Golf Club just outside Washington, D.C., in Virginia. The odds of the President playing are good. During his first year in the White House, President Trump spent close to 100 days at one of the golf clubs bearing his name.

They say golf reveals a lot about a player:  You keep your own score, you inevitably hit less than perfect shots, you have plenty of time to interact with your playing partners. Here’s what it’s like to play with the President, according to Jeff Thoreson, editor of GolfStyles, a magazine about golf in the mid-Atlantic region. Thoreson went out to the Trump National Golf Club to talk with people who’ve played with the President. Some excerpts:

On the golf course he is not the churlish neophyte politician that critics so easily lampoon. As a golfer and the club’s owner, the guy is gregarious, convivial, generous, and a downright pleasure as a playing partner.

He does have a huge personality and a massive ego. But underneath the bluster, Trump, members say, wants to be like every other golfer. He wants to be better than he is. He gets down when he’s not playing well. He gets nervous at big moments, and most of all, he enjoys the camaraderie of the foursome.

“From a guy standpoint, he wants to be one of the boys,” [Pete] Robison says. “When you’re playing golf with him, he’s a back-slapper and he’ll heckle. He enjoys all that.”

As for his game, members agree that it is solid, way more so than most 70-year-olds. He hits the driver well, and while he may have been able at one time to hit it 285 yards like he claimed in the exchange about the size of his hands with Sen. Mario Rubio during the campaign, members say now he’s closer to 230 or 240 yards. His irons are crisp, reasonably straight and reliable, and he’s a very good putter. The president’s greatest weakness on the course is chipping.

Inside a Trump foursome, the new president is usually a little blustery for the first hour or so—close to his television persona—but when everything settles in, he’s just another guy. He takes an interest in others, engages in small talk and the witty banter of any foursome as the bad shots and lucky shots unfold. He isn’t shy with the expletives.

In a casual round Trump will bump a ball out of a divot or give himself a four-foot putt, but he’ll also bump your ball out of a divot and give you a four-foot putt. “There’s no malicious intent in the way he bends the rules,” says [Michael] Muehr. “He’s not trying to beat you when he does something like rake a putt or roll the ball. He just wants to be better maybe than he is.”

Thoreson concluded: “I started writing the Trump story thinking it would be negative and members would say he cheats and is obnoxious, but it turned out totally different; couldn’t find anyone who had anything bad to say about him as a golfer/club owner.”
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What was it like playing with Donald Trump 25 years ago when he just a real estate developer? From a 1993 story, by Mike Purkey, in Golf magazine:

Trump is a New York icon, bigger than life in the Big Apple. But folks in the hinterlands only know he exists because the evening news, the tabloids, and People magazine tell them so.

He’s still a mystery. But, after a round of golf with The Donald, a little less of one.

First, Trump is the ultimate Type-A personality. We were to play at 12:30 p.m. at Winged Foot Golf Club, about 23 miles from Manhattan. He had to be back in the city by 5 p.m. to be master of ceremonies at a charity function.

We went off as a twosome on the West Course and sped around—he likes to play fast—until we reached the eighth tee. In front of us was a foursome, and another ahead of them.

For a moment, he paced the tee, looked at his watch, swore under his breath, paced some more, looked at his watch.

“Well, you want to play a few more holes or do you want to stand here and fuck around?” he asked.

The question wasn’t necessary. The decision had already been made. “You had to know Trump would be impatient, didn’t you?” he said with a grin.

So we skipped over to the 13th hole on the East Course, where he feathered an 8-iron on the 141-yard par three, nearly holing it.

We played into the clubhouse on the East, pausing only once for Trump to pull out his cellular phone from his golf bag and call the office. “I gotta see if I’m 100 up or 100 down.”

We assume he meant millions.

After a quick soft drink, we jumped onto the 10th tee of the West. From there, we played the 10th, 11th, and 12th, then cut over to the 17th and 18th.

The cross-country excursion—less then three hours to negotiate—netted us exactly 18 holes. We created a new course at Wing Foot: all it the Trump Composite.

He’ll be pleased about that. He likes things with his name on them, notably casinos, hotels, and other big buildings.

The second thing we discovered is that Trump is a salesman, pure and simple. Some say that’s the secret to his success. That might be true. It’s also true that once a salesman, always a salesman.

He smiled that magazine cover smile of his—a lot. He was charming,  friendly, and knowledgeable about the game and history.

As we walked—at a breakneck clip—around Winged Foot, his home course, he tried to sell me on the club. He also tried to sell me on his golf ability. He’s listed as a plus-one, and a check of his reported scores over the past year proves it. During a stretch last summer and fall, he was never out of the 70s and posted several rounds under par.

“Claude Harmon [the late Winged Foot pro] told Donny that he was the best weekend player he had ever seen,” said Don Scott, a longtime Trump friend.

Harmon and Scott could be right. Trump is a player. He just doesn’t look it. And, because he was playing like it was polo instead of golf, he didn’t show it.

Trump’s swing is far from textbook. He makes a lot of body turn and sort of lurches through the ball. But he’s big—about 6-2 and 190 pounds—and strong. His tee shots, when hit squarely, can be launched 260 to 270 yards. But they also can travel off-line almost as far.

His strength—if you don’t believe it, just ask him—is his short game. “I’ve always been a good chipper and putter,” he says. “I have great feel. I kill guys with my putting.”. . .

Although he went to great lengths not to show it—he was overly generous with conceded putts—Trump is very competitive. He and Scott, along with a few others, play regularly for $100 Nassaus in which as much as $1,500 or $2,000 can change hands.

Certainly not Michael Jordanesque betting figures, but enough, Trump says, “to keep me interested.”

However, money’s not the object. He has plenty where that came from. “He has to win,” Scott says. “And he’ll do anything it takes.” That, we are fairly certain, is the real Donald Trump.

Trump’s strengths: Putting—he’s a wizard.

Trump’s weakness: Driving—very wild and erratic.

Trump said: “I can tell right away if a guy is a winner or a loser just by the way he conducts himself on the course.”

Comments

  1. BARNARD COLLIER says:

    Dear Jack,

    That is perhaps the most perspicacious piece I’ve ever read about Trump, and I entirely agree that how a person plays golf is a good measure of his or her character. I’ll have to do a bit of rethinking, if the descriptions are indeed true.

    The links rivalry between 41 and 43 was intense and both were reasonably good golfers, but the game they enjoyed most was “golf polo”, where the strokes meant nothing and the elapsed time was everything.

    In Barney Bush’s privately published book “Kneecap Level” he reveals a very telling story about the father/son rivalry and how it came out in a game where 43 played with three clubs, on foot, and his father, more than 70 years old at the time, was taken from place to place in a governored-at-walking-speed golf cart.

    It vividly illustrates the differences between their characters. In case Kneecap is ever released for public reading, I won’t spoil it.

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