Whether it’s a business contract, a bilateral treaty, or a matrimonial bond, President Trump has proven that he has trouble staying within the confines of an arrangement between two parties. According to a new book by sportswriter Rick Reilly, Trump’s impulse to cheat also applies to the golf course. In Commander in Cheat: How Golf Explains Trump, Reilly claims that Trump “cheats at the highest level. He cheats when people are watching and he cheats when they aren’t. He cheats whether you like it or not. He cheats because that’s how he plays golf … if you’re playing golf with him, he’s going to cheat.”
“To say ‘Donald Trump cheats’ is like saying ‘Michael Phelps swims,’” writes Reilly, who spoke with dozens of Trump’s former golf partners to get a sense of the president’s ethical approach to the game. According to a copy of the book obtained by the New York Post ahead of its publication on Tuesday, Trump claims he has a 2.8 handicap, the sliding scale used among amateur golfers that would help a pair of varying talent to compete with each other. Like his height, Trump’s self-reported handicap of 2.8 – the lower the number the better – is probably a little off. As the Post notes, “Jack Nicklaus, winner of a record 18 major golf titles and generally considered the greatest golfer in the history of the game, has a handicap of 3.4.”
Shortly after his inauguration, Trump went out with Tiger Woods, current PGA leader Dustin Johnson and veteran Brad Faxon. Faxon recalled that Trump hit a shot into a water hazard, then pulled out another ball when he thought no one was looking. That do-over shot also wound up in the water. Boxer Oscar De La Hoya, actor Samuel Jackson, and glam rock star Alice Cooper also told Reilly that Trump can’t help but cheat. Jackson, who aired Trump’s golf habits during the campaign, told Reilly that “he clearly saw [Trump] hook a ball into a lake … and his caddy told him he found it!” LGPA pro Suzann Pettersen says that Trump must collude with his caddy ahead of time, for “no matter how far into the woods he hits the ball, it’s in the middle of the fairway when we get there.” The president also allegedly tampers with the game of others in his party: former ESPN football announcer Mike Tirico recalled that Trump’s caddy told him that Trump took a ball Tirico hit onto the putting green and threw it 50 feet away into a bunker.
Like in his business life, Trump reportedly exaggerates certain details about his golf courses, like his resort in Virginia, where a plaque between the 14th and 15th holes commemorates the fallen soldiers of a Civil War battle that never happened. Like in the White House, Trump allegedly doesn’t have a great handle on the game’s etiquette: he drives onto the putting green and keeps his hat on in the clubhouse, as if to keep his troublesome hair in check.
The president certainly has plenty of opportunities to cheat at his favorite pastime: according to one count, Trump has golfed 178 times since his inauguration. His most notable trip in recent weeks was with Kid Rock, who wore American-flag pants on his outing with the president, the day before Attorney General William Barr released his summary of the Mueller report.