Donald Trump is a very simple man whose broken brain can be summed up by any number of isolated moments in the media — like this weekend, when he threatened to sic the FCC on Saturday Night Live in response to a rerun. Or perhaps you prefer Trump Moments of an older vintage, like when he failed to pick up the symbolic meaning of George W. Bush’s assertion that there are no corners in the Oval Office to hide in, and instead just repeated “there are certainly no corners” with the casual, dumb-guy ultra-confidence of a dude who lights a cigarette filter-side out, smokes the whole thing, and then shits his pants. Or maybe you like the time he fed the NCAA champion Clemson football team fast food and then tweeted the word “hamberders.” There’s truly something for everybody.
Here’s the one for me, in which Trump derails what appears to be an important meeting with business leaders to brag about having hit a hole-in-one:
Above, you can see Trump, sitting with Jared Kushner and at least two dudes who look like him, chumming it up for the cameras with some CEO across the table from him named Jeff. Which Jeff? Zucker, Immelt, Bezos, Goldblum, whoever — it doesn’t really matter. “Jeff actually watched me make a hole-in-one, can you believe it?” Trump says, literally cutting the guy off in the middle of kissing his ass because Trump is nominally in charge of America in order to make Jeff Jefferman, CEO of Jeff Enterprises, tell the press gaggle about how good at golf he is.
Hole-in-ones are rare in golf, but anyone who, like Trump, has played golf for decades and isn’t terrible at it, has probably made one. In my experience, they all crave an opportunity to tell the story — or even better, have a witness tell the story. So Jeff, sitting next to a sycophantically chuckling Mike Pence and framed like he’s George Steinbrenner on Seinfeld, dutifully tells the story, which in his telling involves Trump saying, “I’m the richest golfer in the world,” and then making a hole-in-one on a golf course he owns. Everyone laughs, and Trump fake-modestly responds, “It’s a crazy, it’s a crazy,” before something clicks in his head and he interrupts himself to exclaim, “No, I actually said I was the best golfer of all the rich people! And then I got a hole-in-one. It was sorta cool.”
Such performative, ostentatious gloating is central to Trump’s image, for he is the person regular dumbasses would act like if they suddenly became a gazillionaire. Golf itself, meanwhile, is central to whatever claim Trump can make about actually being good at business. He owns 17 golf courses around the world, many of which are considered among the world’s finest by people who care about super-fancy golf courses. He also plays golf a lot, because if you owned 17 golf courses you would play a lot of golf too, and has won club championship tournaments at many of them — in other words, he played all the good golfers who are members of the club and gets to say he is the best.
As to whether he actually earned them is a different story. Sportswriter Rick Reilly’s not-very-good book Who’s Your Caddy quotes a member of a Trump course as saying he “let [Trump] win” the club championship because he “didn’t want him to raise my [membership] dues.”
Just won The Club Championship at Trump International Golf Club in Palm Beach-lots of very good golfers-never easy to win a C.C.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 17, 2013
According to Donald Trump’s locker in Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach, Florida, Trump is the six-time club champion at Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach, Florida. His most recent championship came in 2018, when he convinced a guy named Ted Virtue, a club member who’d won that year’s actual club championship tournament, to play him one-on-one for the title, and beat him. If the Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach, Florida for some reason had its own internal version of The New York Post, its cover would read, “Don Trumps Virtue.” But, alas. Life is not fair, and neither is Donald Trump on the golf course.
There are, generally speaking, two pieces of accepted wisdom when it comes to Donald Trump’s golf game. One: Despite being a terrible president, he is an improbably good golfer. And two: He cheats more than anyone else in the known universe. An exhaustive 2015 Washington Post investigation into the latter subject cites anecdotes from both a former Sports Illustrated editor and the legendary rocker Alice Cooper claiming to have witnessed Trump’s on-course trickery; in response, Trump claimed he’d never heard of the SI editor and called Cooper’s accusation “a terrible thing to say about people, especially me.” His response is both hilarious and, given that he did not deny the specific charges levied, deeply revealing. Additionally, the Post quoted a former caddy at one of Trump’s courses as saying there was an understanding that if you were carrying Donald Trump’s clubs, it was your job to make sure his shots ended up in a favorable location through any means necessary. Dude definitely cheats, even when he doesn’t.
As for Trump being actually good at golf, consider the following spreadsheet I found courtesy of the U.S. Golf Association’s online handicap index, which collects a player’s 20 most recent scores that were submitted to the USGA:
Despite that Trump claims a handicap of 2.8, which would mean that he consistently shoots only three shots above par on 18 holes, we mostly see scores in the low-to-mid-80s, as well as a few outliers in the high-70’s and one ass-bad round of 96. These are not the scores of a person who is a great golfer; they’re scores that literally anyone who plays a bunch of golf can achieve. I know, because I suck at golf and can shoot 80, the rough average of Trump’s above scores, on a good day.
Still, those are just numbers, and numbers are the products of the unfair phonies out to make Donald Trump look bad. What does the big boy look like on the dang links? Unsurprisingly, not good. Consider the following video, in which Tiger Woods’ former coach Hank Haney breaks down Trump’s swing, which looks kinda like what Mr. Potato Head’s golf swing would look like if he were real:
In Haney’s analysis, Trump has “potential” as a golfer, and that despite doing some unconventional stuff with his shoulders, manages to generate “a good amount of power” behind his shots. When you compare Trump to, say, the famously smooth hitter Ernie Els, it quickly becomes clear that while Trump’s swing is not “good” in a technical sense, he’s been been at it so long that through sheer force of replication, he’s made it work for him. The same goes for his putting stroke, which is so unconventional that it causes Haney to momentarily make a face like he just smelled something dead, before regaining his composure and saying, “As long as they go in, it doesn’t matter.”
On the other side of the coin, The New Yorker’s David Owen, who once played with Trump for an article, has written that he has “trouble with shots inside a hundred yards,” meaning that while Trump can hit the ball far and putt it into the hole once it’s on the green, he struggles with the fairly nuanced task of actually getting the ball onto the green once he’s close. This, perhaps not uncoincidentally, is the part of golf that offers less instant gratification than the BING of a well-struck drive or the rattle of a sunk putt. Such a mixed bag of skills and weak spots is the arsenal of the mediocre golfer, something I know far too well.
Over the course of my research, I became increasingly confident that, middling player that I am, I could absolutely own Donald Trump at golf. He’s good when you plop him in front of a golf ball on a course that he owns and tell him where to aim and let him take a do-over if he duffs it, but when you strip all of that away, he is of medium talent on the links. Of course, if Trump himself were ever to look at this article (as his longtime henchman Roger Stone recently explained, Trump doesn’t read things, only looks at them), he would say that I am a failed journalist who’s too poor to step foot in the parking lot of even the crappiest of his 17 courses. Per Trump’s view of the world, he would be correct: I do not have a primetime show on Fox News, which I’m pretty sure is the only thing Trump views as journalistic success, and I once tried to play at Trump National in Charlotte, NC for a story but was denied access by the course’s management.
But this is what Trump does, in both golf and life: He sets the terms of whatever he’s involved with so that the playing field is skewed drastically in his favor, and then either goes on to easily win or deny he was ever there in the first place, and by the way folks, look at that gold trim on these golf carts, can you believe it?
Still, if I played Donald Trump in a normal round of golf on a random golf course that didn’t have the word “Trump” in its name and someone who wasn’t Donald Trump kept Donald Trump’s score, I think I’d have a shot. Mr. President: Accept my challenge, Potato Man. You know you want to.