Damage Control: Former US president Donald Trump’s love for golf casts a long shadow on the game

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January 24, 2021 3:00 AM

Apparently, Donald Trump played an unprecedented number of times — 77 rounds — during his presidency, the most ever by any sitting President of the United States.

As a golfer, I share the angst that so many of us do, of being clubbed together with Trump in the same lot, and, to borrow an appropriately antiquated phrase, the way he's besmirched the reputation of the game.As a golfer, I share the angst that so many of us do, of being clubbed together with Trump in the same lot, and, to borrow an appropriately antiquated phrase, the way he's besmirched the reputation of the game.

Finally. We can all now look forward to less media scrutiny of Donald Trump’s association with golf. A final salvo, that appeared in yesterday’s edition of the Indian Express, mentioned, among other things, that Trump cheated, and did so with the same bluster and brazenness that have characterised his conduct and demeanour during his tenure as POTUS. The writer also mentioned how golf courses owned by him (17, on both sides of the Atlantic, no less!) were largely overlooked during his stint at the White House, as venues for major events on the PGA and European Tours. Four days after the riot at Capitol Hill, the PGA of America announced that the Trump National Golf Club at Bedminster would not be hosting the 2022 PGA Championship.

On the other side of the pond, the R&A specified, again, that it was not considering Trump’s Turnberry course, the iconic layout that’s hosted several historic Opens, on its future schedule. No small shame considering the calibre of the layout that hosted Tom Watson’s ‘Duel in the Sun,’ with Jack Nicklaus in 1977 and was the scene of Greg Norman’s first major victory in 1986. You can’t blame the R&A or the USGA for what is essentially, a damage control exercise. At the announcement, PGA of America’s CEO Seth Waugh averred that the PGA’s executive board “had to make a business decision” to protect “our brand and reputation.” As a golfer, I share the angst that so many of us do, of being clubbed together with Trump in the same lot, and, to borrow an appropriately antiquated phrase, the way he’s besmirched the reputation of the game.

Now apparently, Trump played an unprecedented number of times — 77 rounds — during his presidency, the most ever by any sitting President of the United States. Given his dismissal of the coronavirus at the onset of the pandemic, and the privilege of owning golf courses meant that while most golfers around the world were sitting at home licking their chops and dreaming of teeing it up, Trump was getting plenty of play. No surprise that he can, apparently, hold a 10-handicap, notwithstanding the 2.8 that the man himself insists he plays to. The USGA’s handicapping system is pretty bulletproof; even Jack Nicklaus today officially plays to a 5.2 handicap. And since both are in their 70s — it’s a miracle that Trump didn’t overhaul Nicklaus’ record of 18 Majors. There is one thing that all of us share with Trump though — whether we like it or not — we’re all quite delusional about our golf swings. Don’t believe me? Just ask someone to shoot a video the next time you’re on the course. Not for the faint-hearted, this unforgiving mirror of an action that’s probably a far cry from what you see pros execute on television. After one session with a coach a few years back I swore I’d never willingly undertake such a soul-destroying activity ever again. It’s inexplicable, but there it is: the difference between what you’re actually doing with the golf club, and what you think you’re doing, can trigger an existential crisis. I wouldn’t recommend it; much like Endymion, who chose eternal sleep because it allowed him to be with Diana, reality is what you make it. The pandemic has caused enough grief already; no need to exacerbate things by counterproductive self-reflection.

At least we’re back on the course. For those of us lucky enough to do so, getting back to the game after the lockdowns has been a mixed bag. For the life of me, I still can’t chip; but the long game is another matter. Something very unprecedented has taken place that I’m still coming to grips with. Here’s my hypothesis: months of not picking up a golf club meant that bad swing habits that had got ingrained over the last few years, stubborn as these were, slowly dissipated. What that led to was the re-emergence of a natural ability to hit the ball which I had as a youngster. Secondly, a redirection of efforts from golf to fitness has played dividends. Running is not like golf, mere devotion is more than enough. And the results have been spectacular. I finally understand what coaches mean when they talk about the core powering the golf swing: now that there is, in fact, a semblance of a core, it’s led to better posture, a straighter spine, a more athletic setup and a more secure grip. The results, ladies and gentlemen, I’m happy to report, are, that while I might still take at least three shots to get down from 100 yards in, the first 280-290 yards are bludgeoned in one off the tee.

Given that, I think the biggest takeaway from the pandemic for me is to work on my fitness at least half as hard as I work on my golf. Instead of pounding balls at the range four days a week, I’m going to spend at least two of those evenings at the gym. I’m no expert in physical training, but from what I’ve gathered over the last three months even short regimens of leg raises, squats and stretches every other day translate into exponential benefits when it comes to how you swing the club. Think about that before you put down good money for another driver: an upgrade to your physical equipment might be a cheaper, and more rewarding alternative. But that’s true only for those of us who can count our strokes and aren’t deluded about our golfing abilities. As a parting shot, and since I’m certain I won’t ever have to write about him again, there is one thing I do have to admit Trump was right about: his unabashed superlative estimation of himself. So yes, for the record, it’s clear that Donald Trump is the worst loser of all time. In golf, and otherwise. Take a bow sir, and carry on cheating. No one cares anymore.

A golfer, Meraj Shah also writes about the game

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