Commander in Cheat: How Golf Explains Trump review

What Trump's golf game reveals about him

Golf is the ultimate gentleman’s game, played with honor, nobility and pride. It is a game that tests a person’s mettle, examines their character, shows how they handle adversity and what they do when a bending 30-footer somehow finds the hole.

Want to find the true makeup of a person? Take them to the golf course. Want to see if they pay their taxes? Watch what they do when their ball lands in the rough. If they cheat on the golf course, they are cheating at life.

Or, as Rick Reilly deftly notes in his startling and entertaining book, “Commander in Cheat: How Golf Explains Trump,” a hilarious and well-researched indictment of President Trump and his golf game, “Golf is like bicycle shorts. It reveals a lot about a man.”

Every golfer who has ever let the game get in their blood knows this to be true. Except, perhaps, Donald Trump. That’s the story Reilly, probably the most acclaimed sports writer of his generation, details and highlights in incredulous and often times comical fashion about ‘The Donald,’ both before and after he became the nation’s 45th president.

Everything about Trump the golfer is a lie, from his handicap and the number of club championships he has won to the scores he posts (known as the “Trump Bump”) and the national ranking of the many golf courses he owns. Even his etiquette is bad. Trump routinely drives his golf cart (he never walks) right on the green, a golfing no-no.

He cheats so blatantly on the golf course that his playing partners (usually celebrities or sports personalities) and trusty caddy, A.J., even the Secret Service agents, don’t bother to look away. Trump’s logic: The guy up ahead is probably cheating so it’s OK if I do. Curiously, though, most of Trump’s playing partners say they enjoy playing with him, maybe because the president never collects any money he or his partner might have, uh, won.

The point of Reilly’s book, in which he played golf with the president on several occasions and interviewed more than 100 PGA professionals, amateurs and developers, is to make the comparison between Trump the golfer and Trump the president, neither of which is flattering.


He starts by examining the 18 club championships Trump claims to have won, all of them, not surprisingly, at the courses he owns. He then begins to refute each and every one, right down to Trump telling an employee to take down the plaque of the winner and put up his name, even though he never competed in the championship. Trump’s reasoning: “I beat that constantly. I would’ve beaten him.”

It goes on from there, with Reilly surgically taking Trump’s boasts apart with journalistic brilliance, finding people who witnessed what he calls Trump’s “foozling” of the ball and zinging the former billionaire businessman with lines that earned him the reputation as one of America’s great sports writers. (Trump’s nose had grown so long he could putt with it.)

Rick Reilly details many of Trump’s indiscretions on the golf course, everything from his shameless flouting of the rules to his tasteless flirting with female LPGA Tour players while they were competing on one of his many courses. It includes a somewhat creepy advancement with tour player Kris Tschetter during a pro-am, never mind that Tschetter’s husband was caddying for her.

For perspective, Reilly devotes a chapter to past presidents who loved to play golf, everyone from Woodrow Wilson (played more rounds than Trump), Warren Harding (had a few belts between green and tee) and Franklin Roosevelt (the most talented golfing president) to Dwight Eisenhower (loved golf like dogs love bones), George H.W. Bush (fastest golfer I’ve ever seen) and Bill Clinton (hit several balls from the same spot, known as “Billigans”). With each president, cheating on the golf course was never an issue.

Not so with Trump.

At Winged Foot, a famous U.S. Open site in Mamaroneck, N.Y., where Trump is a member, the caddies got so used to seeing him kick his ball back onto the fairway “they came up with a crazy nickname for him — Pele.” In the end, the New York Times best-selling author asks: “What does golf have to do with being president?” His answer: Everything. To wit: If you cheat to win at golf, is it that much further to cheat to win an election?

Every golfer knows the stain of cheating never goes away. Once done, it follows a player like bad body odor. “Commander in Cheat” makes a point to explain what smells about Trump and his character, both on the course and off.

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