In golf as in life, Trump lies and cheats as he goes
Remember Kim Jong-il's outrageous golfing claims? Well, get a load of the US president's fairway fantasies
In 1994 Kim Jong-il, the then leader of North Korea and father of present incumbent Kim Jong-un, played his first round of golf. He was opening a course in Pyongyang and, according to official news sources, managed to secure 11 holes in one.
When the magnificently optimistic total was circulated around the world it was greeted with loud guffaws. Nobody, not Jordan Spieth, not Rory McIlroy, not Tiger Woods at his peak, would dare dream of that sort of score. Here, everybody agreed, was classic mad despot behaviour.
But if Rick Reilly, the respected columnist for Sports Illustrated, is to be believed, old Kim may not have a monopoly on laughably inflated golf scores. Reilly has just published a book about Donald Trump’s relationship with the game. And the title of his meticulously researched examination suggests that the 45th president is not altogether scrupulous when it comes to adhering to golf’s long-established codes.
The book is called Commander in Cheat.
American leaders have traditionally had a significant association with the green. Jimmy Carter apart, every president since the start of the 20th century has been an aficionado. And it has long been a habit of American writers to use the game as a litmus test of presidency. After all, as PG Wodehouse put it, the best way to assess a man’s character is to play golf with him.
It was through golf we discovered George Bush snr was a tightly buttoned-up East Coast preppie, that Bill Clinton took the same cavalier response to scoring that he did to his marriage certificate, and that Barack Obama played way too often when he should have been running the country. Actually, it was Trump who told us that last one. When he was campaigning for the White House, he berated the incumbent for playing too much golf. “Wouldn’t happen on my watch,” he tweeted.
Oddly, it has: Trump is in line to smash Woodrow Wilson’s longstanding record for the number of rounds played by a serving president. But, according to Reilly’s inquiry, that is typical of his attitude to the game: he lies, Reilly claims, about his scores, he lies about his handicap, he lies about the lie of his ball. At one of the courses he frequents, Reilly reveals, having observed him kicking his ball into a better position, the caddies share a nickname for him: “Pele.”
And his game practice extends into his business dealings. He owns courses around the world, including two in Scotland. Here, Reilly claims, he lies about profitability, he lies about membership, he lies about how much money each of his courses donates to charity (generally he says $5m; Reilly has discovered the figure is invariably zero). In all of his clubhouses, he hangs framed copies of the front cover of Time magazine from when he was voted its Man of the Year. Just one thing: Reilly points out he has never actually been Time Man of the Year; the pictures are fakes.
Indeed, reading Reilly’s book the sole conclusion you can draw is that the most powerful man in the world shares many of the attributes of the lunatic former North Korean leader. Except a little bit of digging uncovers that Kim never actually claimed to have scored 11 holes in one. It was an error of translation. In fact he claimed he had scored 11 bogeys (in itself unlikely). But since no one in North Korea knew how to fill out a scorecard, instead of one over par, these were entered as a score of one. Which suggests Trump is actually a bigger fantasist than Kim.
And if you think that does not really matter, consider this: Reilly reports that when Mr President plays these days he is followed by a cart, on which are carried the nuclear codes.
– © Telegraph Media Group Limited (2019)