Trump, The Golfer In Chief | KUOW News and Information

Trump, The Golfer In Chief

Apr 23, 2017
Originally published on April 24, 2017 6:30 am

Not long ago, both the Economist and the New Yorker magazines featured unflattering cover portraits of President Trump holding a golf club. Both seemed to suggest the president had found himself in a rough patch. While that may be true politically, Trump is very much at home on the golf course — which is not surprising, since he owns 17 of them.

Whatever historians ultimately write on his presidential scorecard, Trump may be the best golfer ever to occupy the Oval Office.

"He's won club championships. Of course, they've all been at his clubs," says Jaime Diaz, a senior writer at Golf Digest and editor in chief at Golf World.

Diaz, who's played with Trump on a couple of occasions, says the president golfs the way he governs: largely by instinct. But his swing is not as reckless as it might appear.

"He has this sort of bombastic image, obviously. Well-earned. And you'd expect someone who probably has kind of a sort of a show-offy, ego-driven kind of game. But in fact, it's a game of control," Diaz says.

At age 70, Trump typically shoots in the 70s or low 80s. Plaques at his golf clubs say Trump has even hit a couple of holes-in-one. (And that's not counting his long-shot drive for the White House.)

John F. Kennedy was probably the second-best golfing president, though he didn't play much in public. Kennedy tried to distance himself from his golf-crazy predecessor, Dwight Eisenhower. The first time Kennedy walked into the Oval Office, he was surprised to find cleat marks on the battered hardwood floor.

"President Eisenhower would pace back and forth with his golf spikes on before he went out to the putting green to chip and putt a little bit in the morning," says historian Mike Trostel of the United States Golf Association.

Nowadays, that hardwood floor is covered. And that's not the only way modern presidents try to sweep their golfing habits under the rug.

While Trump spends hours at his own golf courses, aides rarely reveal whom he's playing with or even confirm that he's playing at all. Before he was president himself, Trump often criticized President Obama's time on the links — though he recently told a group of lawmakers that's only because Obama didn't use the time to cut deals.

"I always said about President Obama, it's great to play golf. But play with heads of countries," Trump said. "Don't play with your friends that you play with every week."

Trump recently bonded with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe over a round of golf. And he tried to sell an Obamcare replacement bill between holes to Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky.

"We had a great day with the president today," Paul said afterwards. "We did talk about health care reform. I think the sides are getting closer and closer together. "

Lyndon Johnson also used the golf course as one more venue for arm-twisting, whereas Obama rarely talked politics during a round, except maybe the one time he played with House Speaker John Boehner.

Historian Trostel says in the last century, all but three U.S. presidents have spent time on the golf course. (Herbert Hoover, Harry Truman and Jimmy Carter were the holdouts, although Trostel recently discovered that Carter played some in the military.)

Different presidents exhibit a wide variety of styles. George H.W. Bush raced around the course in less than two hours. A round with Bill Clinton could drag on half the day.

By far the most prolific presidential golfer was Woodrow Wilson, who played nearly every day but Sunday — some 1600 rounds — including all through World War I.

"In the winter time he had Secret Service agents paint golf balls red so he could practice in the snow," Trostel says.

By comparison, Eisenhower played about 800 rounds during his two terms in office. And Obama played 333, according to Mark Knoller of CBS News, who keeps an unofficial but authoritative tally of all presidential statistics. Trump is on pace to exceed Obama's golf total, and he could match Eisenhower's. It's doubtful, though, that he'll come anywhere close to Wilson's record.

For today's presidents, the golf course is loaded with political sand traps, including accusations that they're slacking off or isolating themselves in a ritzy country club.

But Golf Digest's Diaz suspects there are real payoffs too: an opportunity to relax and clear one's head, and for Trump, a chance to hit the pause button on the constant self-promotion.

"I didn't sense he needed to tell you how good he was when he played golf," Diaz says. "I think he was confident about it and he let his actions speak for themselves. In some ways, that might be his best self, out on the golf course."

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

LYNN NEARY, HOST:

And are you looking for the president?

(SOUNDBITE OF MONTAGE)

SETH MEYERS: Donald Trump has spent a lot of time as president golfing and tweeting.

RANDI KAYE: The president teed it up with professional golfer Rory McIlroy at Trump International.

JEANNE MOOS: Golf Digest called him the golfer in chief.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: President Trump for the birdie.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Those hands can hit a golf ball 285 yards.

NEARY: This week on Out of Bounds, the commander in chief on the links. President Trump is very much at home on a golf course. After all, his name is on 17 of them. Here's NPR's Scott Horsley.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Whatever historians ultimately write on his presidential scorecard, Donald Trump may be the best golfer ever to occupy the Oval Office.

JAIME DIAZ: He's won club championships. Of course, they've all been at his club which, you know, is sometimes fodder for jokes.

HORSLEY: Jaime Diaz is a senior writer at Golf Digest who's played with Trump on a couple of occasions. He says the president golfs the way he governs, largely by instinct. But his swing is not as reckless as it might appear.

DIAZ: He has this sort of bombastic image obviously, well-earned. And you'd expect someone who probably has kind of a show-offy (ph), ego-driven kind of game. But in fact, it's a game of control, I would say.

HORSLEY: At age 70, Trump typically shoots in the 70s or low 80s. John F. Kennedy was probably the second-best golfing president, though he didn't play much in public. Kennedy tried to distance himself from his golf-crazy predecessor Dwight Eisenhower. Historian Mike Trostel of the U.S. Golf Association says the first time Kennedy walked into the Oval Office, he was surprised to find cleat marks on the battered hardwood floor.

MIKE TROSTEL: President Eisenhower would pace back and forth with his golf spikes on before he went out to the putting green to chip and putt a little bit in the morning.

HORSLEY: Nowadays, that hardwood floor is covered. And that's not the only way modern presidents try to sweep their golfing habits under the rug. While Trump spends hours at his own golf courses, aides rarely reveal who he's playing with or even confirm that he's playing at all. Trump often criticized former President Obama's time on the links, though he recently told a group of lawmakers that's because Obama didn't use the time transactionally.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: Well, I always said about President Obama - it's great to play golf, but play golf with heads of countries and, by the way, people like yourself when you're looking for votes. Don't play with your friends that you play with every week.

HORSLEY: Trump recently bonded with Japan's prime minister over a round of golf, and he tried to sell an Obamacare replacement bill between holes to Kentucky Senator Rand Paul.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RAND PAUL: We had a great day with the president today. We did talk about some health care reform. I think the sides are getting closer and closer together.

HORSLEY: Lyndon Johnson also used the golf course as one more venue for arm-twisting, whereas Obama rarely talked politics during a round - except maybe that one time he played with former House Speaker John Boehner. Historian Trostel says for more than a century, nearly all presidents have spent time on the golf course, each with his own style. George H.W. Bush raced around the course in less than two hours. A round with Bill Clinton could drag on half the day. By far the most prolific presidential golfer was Woodrow Wilson, who played nearly every day but Sunday, some 1,600 rounds in all, including all through World War I.

TROSTEL: In the wintertime, he had the Secret Service agents paint golf balls red so he could practice in the snow.

HORSLEY: For today's presidents, the golf course is loaded with political sand traps - accusations that they're slacking off or isolating themselves in a ritzy country club. But Golf Digest Jaime Diaz suspects there are real payoffs, too - an opportunity to relax and clear one's head and, for Trump, a chance to hit the pause button on the constant self-promotion.

DIAZ: I didn't sense he needed to tell you how good he was when he played golf. I think he was confident about it, and he just let his actions speak for themselves. So in some ways, that might be his best self out on the golf course.

HORSLEY: Plaques at his golf clubs say Trump has even hit a couple of holes in one, and that's not counting his longshot drive for the White House. Scott Horsley, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.