Trump’s Cheating at Golf Is Proof That He Poisons Everything He Touches
A new book sheds light on how there is nothing the president won’t sully—even the thing he loves most.
Every time Trump comes up, my father gets angry. “He offends me to my core,” he says, barely keeping himself from screaming. It’s not about politics, really, so much as it is about the pure venom of the man. He is a revolting presence—preening, privileged from the womb, incompetent, greedy, hypocritical in manners subtle and gross. The Bush years were a nightmare, in some ways that Trump isn’t even close to touching, but Bush just doesn’t have the sickening aura that Trump carries in everything he does. For so many people, this bloviating buffoon being the president of the United States never quite stops being weird and aggravating. Entirely too much of the man seeps into too much of people’s lives, ruining or straining people’s familial relationships, making the news hard to watch, flooding your Facebook feed with his crap, day after day after day.
The sportswriter Rick Reilly has taken his frustration with Trump and written a book called Commander in Cheat: How Golf Explains Trump. The book is a middle-length examination of Trump’s relationship to golf—an index of wild stories about Trump on the links and his work as a golf course owner and operator. It’s a slight volume, 240 pages, but it is just filled back-to-front with story after story about Trump being a shithead in relation to the game of golf. That one man’s relationship to a single game can contain so much pestilence honestly takes the reader’s breath away. The sheer quantity of anecdotes is a twin monument to the horror of the man’s approach to life and his weird obsession with golf.
Reilly speaks to dozens of people who have played with Trump, who all say that he is a habitual cheater in ways both large and small. One time while he played with Mike Tirico, the ESPN announcer (and fellow creep), and after Tirico hit a nice wood over a hill and onto the fairway, Trump allegedly went ahead, picked up the ball and threw it in a bunker trap to deny Tirico the advantage. He takes mulligans constantly, and is said to hit several balls off the tee and just pick the one that went furthest. Caddies gave him the nickname “Pelé” on account of the sheer volume of times he has kicked the ball out of the rough. He gimmes a chip shot while playing with Reilly, a journalist who was playing with him for the express purpose of writing about the game in a book.
Trump is a pretty good golfer, especially for an older man, but he still lies about his accomplishments like a lunatic. He claims to have won 18 Club Championships—Reilly digs into this claim, discovers that most of them are seniors titles and the others are total horseshit. He says he has a 2.8 handicap, but everyone Reilly speaks to says it’s more like a 7 or an 8. His etiquette is terrible. He drives a cart everywhere on the course—even on the greens—as he famously loathes exercise. At courses he owns, Trump has a custom-made cart that goes twice as fast as all the other carts, so he can blow through the course as quickly as possible.
Speaking of Trump’s ownership prowess, it’s pretty bad. He steamrolls course architects, hacks, and high-end pros alike, preferring courses that are littered with fake waterfalls and overly-manicured greens that look nice but play dull. Winning on one of his courses is generally a matter of power off the tee, which is weird because his drive is the best part of Trump’s game. He has open contempt for basically any good business practice you can imagine. Reilly chronicles him not giving a damn about local environmental concerns, openly shortchanging contractors (he allegedly stiffs one guy to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars but the guy still votes for him, a too-clean metaphor if I’ve ever heard one), unleashing armies of lawyers to achieve his concept of what a golf course is supposed to look like. He hates when windmills are visible from his courses.
After buying property to develop in Scotland, Trump tries to buy all the houses in the line of sight of his course. When he is not able to do this, he tries to get the local government to exercise eminent domain on the homes, so he can bulldoze them and get that pristine sightline he has always dreamed of. This obviously does not work, and the owner of one of the houses, Michael Forbes, raises a massive Mexican flag as a gesture of solidarity, and tells Trump to stick his money up his ass. Trump then proceeds to insult Forbes over Twitter:
This goes on and on and on and on. The vast majority of Reilly’s book is filled with stories, one after another, that illustrate that Trump’s life in golf is a total nightmare, on and off the course. Reilly wrote this book with a sense of grand purpose. He dedicates it to “The Truth,” and claims that Trump’s golf malfeasance is the key to really understanding him. I suppose this might be the case: he is a narcissist and habitual liar who tries to bend Heaven and Earth to get his way, and his life in golf is a nice and tidy display of that.
But the window Reilly looks at Trump through is pretty apolitical—the virulent racism he utilizes to stir up the rubes isn’t really mentioned much, and the method by which his grifting got him to where he is goes mostly unexamined. The closest the book gets to digging into why someone might find him appealing at all is in his interviews with Tom Fazio, a prodigious course designer who dishes on his former employer at length, recognizing that he’s a weird guy and terrible president but saying he still likes him regardless, just because hanging out with him is so weird and fun. Reilly also tries to tie some of Trump’s shitty in-office decisions to golf, an exercise that is a real stretch. He suggests, for instance, that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were excluded from the travel ban list because Trump wants to operate courses there, when it probably had more to do with the United States’ longstanding regional alliances.
What Reilly’s book does express is the feeling of living through this time in America. I couldn’t read Rick losing his mind about Trump shitting all over the thing he loves without thinking of my dad listening to Trump saying some dumb crap on NPR and having a big blue vein bulging out of his head. Reilly loves golf—too much, honestly—and he believes that the game’s truth and beauty come from its embrace of fair-play camaraderie, and the pure pleasure of a stroll on a nice day. Trump’s golf life is a single-minded assault on all of these values that Reilly ascribes to the game. Like so many people in America right now, the thing he loves most in this world is getting sullied by this blowhard. Everyone without a red hat on has something that irks them about this guy, and reading Reilly bury his face in the poison that aggravates him most, suck in deep, and expel the hatred back onto the page is deeply cathartic.