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Golf dumps Trump, sort of

Trump and Mickelson - two white-collar criminals
John Bell

January 26, 2021

At the 11th hour of the very last day of his presidency, Donald J. Trump used the power of his high office to pardon–among many others–Billy Walters. Who is Billy Walters, you are right to ask? Sit back and let me tell you a tale of Trump, cheating, lying and above all, golfing.

In 2017, Billy Walters, a small-time Las Vegas gambler and speculator was convicted to 5 years in jail for insider trading. Walters had partners in his illegal trading scheme. One was pro golf superstar, media darling, son of immense wealth and privilege and white-collar criminal Phil Mickelson. He was the one that pro golf movers and shakers chose to be the anti-Tiger, the Great White Hope. Thanks to a technicality and his celebrity status, Mickelson avoided jail time with a finger wag and a very small amount of bad press which blew over quickly.

But Phil must have had a twinge of conscience about leaving Walters to take the fall. According to White House sources, Mickelson, along with golf luminaries and noted right-wing rat-bags David Feherty, Peter Jacobsen and Butch Harmon used their connections with the golfingest POTUS ever, and asked that Billy Walters’ sentence be commuted. And so it was.

You can make a very strong argument that when it comes to understanding the Trump years, you have to begin and end as he did, with golf.

What is it with US presidents and golf?

William Howard Taft was addicted to the game and declared he knew of nothing more “democratic” than golf. There is a public course in San Francisco named after Warren Harding. Dwight Eisenhower was a member at exclusive (no Blacks, Jews or women) Augusta National, where they named a tree after him. 

Richard Nixon bowled.

No POTUS has worked so diligently to hitch his name to the game of golf than Donald Trump. Two days after his inauguration Trump took his first weekend as president off and went golfing. 

He owns 17 courses, to date: 12 in the US, 2 in Scotland, 2 in Dubai and one in Ireland. More are being built including a resort in Indonesia.

Between his inauguration and the end of 2020 Trump spent 308 days on one golf course or another, at the taxpayer’s expense. It is difficult to be precise but estimates are $150 million have gone to pay for Trump’s green fees. That includes $550,000 just for cart rentals for secret service agents to follow him around. Another $500,000 went to book overnight accommodation for his bodyguards when he stayed the night – usually at a resort he owned, so the money found its way into his pockets.

Trump used golf to buy media exposure. In 2012 he purchased the Doral resort near Mar-A-Lago. Doral had long been venue for a PGA event, so the deal gave him a toe-hold in media coverage. He used the same ploy when he purchased Turnberry, one of the Scottish homes of the Open Championship. 

How it must have outraged him then when the PGA cancelled Doral’s slot in the tournament calendar to give the spot to Mexico City. The commissioner of the PGA was explicit: golf was an international game trying to expand into new markets, and Trump’s slurs about Muslims and Mexicans no longer fit the brand. In the UK, the Royal and Ancient Golf Club ruled that Turnberry was being removed from the rotation of host clubs for the Open.

But most big-name golfers were/are Trump supporters, and the game reveled in his high-level advocacy. In 2020 Mickelson, Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods and many others endorsed Trump for re-election. And on January 7, one day after Trump exhorted his disciples to riot in the Capitol, golf greats Annika Sorenstam and Gary Player went to the White House to accept the Medal of Freedom from the disgraced POTUS. 

(Even Bill Belichick, coach of the NFL New England Patriots and no stranger to lying and cheating to gain an advantage, had the good sense to say “Thanks, no thanks” when Trump offered him a cheesy medal.)

All the fawning, and relentless lobbying from Trump to get his courses into tournament rotation led to the announcement last year that the 2022 PGA Championship–the PGA of America’s flagship event–would be played at the Trump National Golf Club in New Jersey. Big mistake.

What was golf to be: an expanding international game emphasizing sportsmanship, fidelity to the rules and a structure that allowed players of different ages and skill levels to compete against each other; or a preserve of rich, mostly white men looking fondly to their colonial roots. Most of golf’s luminaries fit squarely in the second category. A few forward looking capitalists seeking new markets to exploit inhabited the first. Trump came up the middle.

So it was a pleasant surprise when, several days after the DC white riot, the PGA announced it was dumping Trump National and seeking a new venue for their premier event. Knowing Trump, that news probably stung him as much as losing the election.

One thing is sure, golf­–and America–hasn’t heard the last of Donald Trump.

Cheater in Chief

For someone who spends so much time at it, who has made golf the very centre of his life, Trump isn’t very good at it. Oh, he posts good scores. But that is because, according to playing partners, opponents and caddies alike, he has raised cheating to an art form.

The caddies at the elite Winged Foot club, where Trump is a member, nicknamed him “Pele” because of his skill at kicking his ball into a better lie after every shot. In a friendly game it is not unusual for players to be granted one “Mulligan” per round, a fresh ball and a do-over after a disastrous shot. Stories abound of Trump brazenly awarding himself multiple Mulligans after any bad shot.

Trump cheating stories are legion. He was playing once in a foursome with a TV sports announcer named Mike Tirico, an admittedly so-so golfer. On a par 5 Tirico hit what he said was the best shot of his life, a fairway wood that traveled 230 yards like a bullet over a rise and directly at a hidden green. While he and his caddie were high-fiving, Trump raced ahead to the green. When Tirico got there his ball was nowhere to be seen. Trump pointed it out, buried in a bunker 30 yards wide of the putting surface. According to Tirico, after the round Trump’s caddy quietly told him that an enraged Trump had picked up the ball and thrown it into the trap.

Whenever he opens a new course Trump plays the first round all alone. So he is guaranteed to post the record low score. That way he can declare himself club champion–a distinction he claims for himself at many clubs.

Trump’s cheating was so blatant that sports writer Rick Reilly penned a book about it, Commander In Cheat, claiming the bizarre behaviour went a long way to explaining Trump’s presidency.

A businessman who was chuffed to be paired with Trump in a foursome was shocked when the POTUS took him aside at the 1st tee. Trump told the man, “I cheat, and I expect you to cheat too. We’re going to beat those two guys, and they’re going to cheat. So it is okay for us to cheat.”

In Trump’s world, he is cheating all the time because everyone is cheating all the time. And since he has to win, he is entitled to cheat more. Because of the power he wields, and perhaps because they confuse his inability to play it as it lays with comical buffoonery, the rich and famous in and out of the golf world line up to play with him. Some, like Sorenstam and former pro Brad Faxon play with him regularly and defend him unfailingly.

From cheating at golf it is a small step to cheating at taxes, in business dealings, in personal relationships. Similarly, Trump lies constantly because he must, because he assumes that everyone around him is constantly lying too. Since there is nothing but lies, it is more than okay for him to climb to the top of the heap by being the best and biggest liar. He lies the way he cheats, so blatantly and continuously that for many it becomes blurred and perversely acceptable.

So Trump masquerades as a refreshingly entertaining anomaly. In fact he is a psychotic danger who shouldn’t be running a golf club, let alone a nation? Like the US at large, even after Trump whipped a white supremacist mob into a frenzy, golf can’t quite tell the difference.

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