Whatever Trump Is Playing, It Isn’t Golf

The sport means a lot to Trump—which hasn’t stopped him from cheating outrageously at it.

Donald Trump golfing
Patrick Semansky / AP

More than any wife, more than any party, more than any opinion, President Donald Trump has remained fiercely loyal to golf. But I’ve played golf my entire life. Years ago, I even played with Trump once. Whatever sport he’s playing, it isn’t golf.

He cheats. He lies. He kicks. And not just his ball—yours, too. He props up a 2.8 handicap that’s faker than WrestleMania 35. He wins tournaments he never even played in. He wins tournaments that weren’t even held.

This article was adapted from Commander in Cheat: How Golf Explains Trump, by Rick Reilly.

He does all of this because he has to win. A loss is to Donald Trump what a shower is to the Wicked Witch of the West. He has to win no matter how much cheating, lying, and pencil erasing it takes. He has to win whether you’ve caught him or not. Maybe it was his father beating into his kid brain, Win, win, win. Be a winner, over and over. Maybe it was where he learned the game—Cobbs Creek, a scruffy public course in Philadelphia full of hustlers and con men who taught him to cheat your opponent before he cheats you.

And it’s not just the cheating. It’s the way he plays the game—with all the golf etiquette of an elephant on Red Bull. Trump promised to Make America Great Again. He’s definitely Made Golf Gross Again.

He drives his golf cart on greens. He drives it on tee boxes. He never, ever walks, even on the courses he owns that have banned carts (Trump Turnberry.)

He always hits first, never mind who won the last hole, and then jumps in his Super Mario Kart with his caddy and peels off before you’ve even hit, the better to be 150 yards ahead of you so the two of them can foozle, fudge, and foot-wedge in private.

He plays only at clubs with his name on them and only with caddies who love his $200-a-round tips.

He plays only in those awful two-sizes-too-small cotton Dockers with the 1995 pleats. (Does he own golf shirts in any other color than white?) He plays only with rich people, and almost entirely with men, and not one Democratic member of Congress yet.

It stinks because we were finally getting somewhere with golf. It used to be an elitist game, until the 1960s, when a public-school hunk named Arnold Palmer brought it to the mailmen and the manicurists. Then an Army vet’s kid named Tiger Woods brought it to people of color all over the world. We had ultracool golfers like Woods, Rickie Fowler, and Rory McIlroy, and pants that don’t look like somebody shot your couch, and we’d gotten the average round of golf down to $35, according to the National Golf Foundation.

We were finally making the game cool and healthy and welcoming, and along comes Trump, elbowing his way into the front of every camera and hurling my sport backwards 50 years to its snobby roots.

That’s not just talk. That’s what Trump wants. “I’d like to see golf be an aspirational sport,” Trump told Golf Digest once, “where you aspire to join a club someday, you want to play, you go out and become successful.”

Hey, middle class, your president doesn’t think you deserve golf. Care to try pickleball?

My book is called Commander in Cheat: How Golf Explains Trump. So how does golf explain Trump’s presidency? Well …

If Trump will cheat to win $20 from his friends, is it that much further to believe he’d cheat to lower his taxes, win an election, sway an investigation?

If Trump will lie and say one of his courses is worth $50 million while at the same time suing the local tax board for valuing it at more than $2 million—we feel you, Ossining, New York—is it that much further to think he might lie about his taxes, his fixer, his affairs?

I used to have a coach who said, “How you do one thing is how you do everything.” It’s true.

To wit:

Politics: Trump says his father was born in Germany. (He wasn’t.) He insisted he said “Tim Cook Apple.” (He didn’t.) He says he gave Puerto Rico $91 billion. (It was $11 billion.)

Golf: Trump says he’s won 20 club championships. (He hasn’t.) The truth is, he played a lot of those “championships” by himself, the first day his latest course opened, and declared himself the champ. How do I know? He told me the day we played together in the early 2000s.

Politics: Trump thinks climate change is a hoax.

Golf: Except in Ireland, where his lawyers petitioned to have a 2,000-foot sea wall to fight the “rising sea levels” caused “by climate change.” How do we know? Those exact words are in the petition.

Politics: Trump won’t release his taxes.

Golf: If the House ever gets his returns, they should start with his golf write-offs. For instance, did you know Trump keeps eight goats in a pen on his Trump Bedminster course to get an $80,000 farm tax credit?

Donald Trump does not represent the world of golf; he repels it. Most American golfers (about 90 percent) play on public courses, not country clubs, according to the National Golf Foundation. Every golfer I know plays by the rules (aside from a first-tee mulligan), except him. Every golfer I know finishes his round and—even before his beer—immediately posts his score in the GHIN computer, so everybody knows a bet with him will be fair, except him. In 2018, Trump played an estimated 60-plus times. He posted one score.

While writing my new book about Trump’s cheating, I left calls, emails and even FedEx letters for him and his people and got no replies. Meanwhile, he’s still telling America he’s this champion golfer, and he isn’t. How do I know? Whenever he’s played in front of cameras (Pebble Beach Pro-Am, Tahoe Celebrity), he’s not once made a cut or finished in the top half among the celebs.

I’m just a sportswriter. I’m not an expert on politics, immigration, or the Mueller report. But I can tell you one thing. When it comes to golf fraud, President Trump is not exonerated.