Donald Trump, the golfer: ‘You never go out on a golf course and beat the president’

The United States, and the world as a whole, has entered unchartered and uncertain territory with the ascension to the White House of Donald Trump but the election result earlier this week did at least throw up some familiar territory, writes Brendan O’Brien
Donald Trump, the golfer: ‘You never go out on a golf course and beat the president’

First of all, the new man will be that — a man. And he will be old, white and an avid golfer.

Not much new there, then.

‘The Donald’, according to an undated interview on, first played a round in Newport, Rhode Island. This being Trump, it couldn’t just be any ordinary 18. No. Turns out he was playing behind the Auchincloss family, well-known New York philanthropists who owned one of the most famous mansions in the area and who were linked to JFK and Gore Vidal.

Trump’s ignorance of golf’s etiquette resulted in him repeatedly sending shots into the group of distinguished players up ahead — he was a ‘playa’ from the off, clearly — but of course who can say how much of that is true? Or if he really did play the public courses around Philadelphia when he attended Wharton School? Or if his best round really is a 70, which he claims to have done twice?

It is worth noting the courses, where the owner of the great links in Doonbeg is supposed to have signed for those cards, Trump International in Florida’s West Palm Beach and, wouldn’t you know it, Trump National in Westchester.

“For me, golf is a pretty natural game and I always hit the ball long and straight and (he pauses here for effect) I’m the best putter.”

So the man of the moment said in a spot for TV some years back when both his swing — a big, unorthodox but effective lurch that almost sends him tumbling on the follow-through — and putting were put under the microscope by Hank Haney, who has worked with Tiger Woods, Mark O’Meara and a few other notables.

Trump, though, isn’t a fan of all that instruction malarkey. “Somebody said ‘you have an unusual putting stroke’,” the soon-to-be POTUS explained to camera. “I said: ‘I don’t want to think about it’. They even asked me what I was doing and I said: ‘do me a favour, I don’t even want to talk about it, I don’t want to hear about it. I don’t want to ask. I don’t want to tell.”

That’s a pretty good summation of Trump: no interest in the opinions of those with more knowledge and, instead, an utterly unshakeable belief in the righteousness of everything he says and does. That’s golf, though, always shining a light on human nature. Or so we’ve been told.

PG Wodehouse once wrote that any man who has the decency to enter a patch of rough by himself and play the ball where it truly lay is someone who will serve you “faithfully and well”.

Most pertinent maybe was Lloyd George, the British Prime Minister during the First World War who, in a quote attributed to him, put it that: “You get to know more of the character of a man in a round of golf than in six months of political experience.”

The evidence when it comes to Trump is, let’s say at best, contradictory.

Kurt Eichenwald is an author and writer with Vanity Fair, Newsweek and the New York Times who spent six months investigating Trump before posting 129 of his findings on his Twitter timeline the day before the election. Among them was one that NATO allies had begun assembling files on Trump, some from Russian informants, out of fear that he had been compromised.

Serious stuff.

Also on that list were two statements from sources who had played golf with him. “I played in a charity golf event,” said one. “Trump’s team lost, but after he took the scorecard, he changed it so they won. Everybody knew.”

Another said: “It is ridiculous how much Donald cheats at golf. It’s like he’s incapable of admitting he lost.”

Sports broadcaster Rich Eisen put it to John Daly this week that maybe the most potent weapon in Trump’s bag was his pencil when the two-time Major winner appeared on his show. Daly, who is a confirmed Trump supporter, revealed the next commander-in-chief “hits it good” and is a “decent player”. And the imaginative arithmetic?

“That’s Clinton, that’s Bill,” said ‘Long John’. “That’s ‘Mr Mulligan’ right there. He’ll throw a ball down before he hits the first one. If he doesn’t like the shot, he just throws another one down and hits it.”

Eisen: “

Ever call him on that?”

Daly: “

Oh yeah, all the time.”


“What did he say?”


“Well, you know, ‘I’m just out here practising.’ Well, there’s a range for that! Donald will actually finish a hole and write his score down. Bill will not even finish a hole and write a score down.”

Whatever their on-course proclivities, Trump and Clinton are pretty typical of modern US presidents in that 15 of the last 18 have been golfers of some hue or other. Tales of Clinton’s ‘Billigans’ are widespread, JFK apparently averaged a score of 80 despite chronic back pain and Lyndon B Johnson is said to have secured votes for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 when playing with some senators.

Much of this we know thanks to Don Van Natta Jr. whose book title First Off the Tee: Presidential Hackers, Duffers, and Cheaters from Taft to Bush doesn’t say much for the men who liked to get away from the White House by spending time on the green. Dwight D Eisenhower actually went further, of course, and installed a putting surface outside the Oval Office.

Maybe LBJ explained the allure of the game for his fellow presidents best when he remarked that anyone wanting to get ahead in politics needed to learn that “you never go out on a golf course and beat the president”.

Trump, of course, has long been insured against failure come the 19th. “You haven’t got a chance,” he was quoted once by Golf Digest. “I mean, I own the place!”

It’s too late now but maybe more of us should have listened to Henry L Mencken when the American writer known as the ‘Sage of Baltimore’ suggested back in the early 20th century that: “If I had my way, any man guilty of golf would be ineligible for any office of trust in the United States.”

Email: Twitter: @Rackob

‘You never go out on a golf course and beat the president’

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