Alan Shipnuck has written an excellent article in Golf Digest examining Donald Trump’s relationship and involvement with golf. Go read it for a very thorough and well-researched discussion of the topic. But as excellent as Alan’s work is, I think there’s still room to add another perspective. Let’s consider for a moment how the nature of the game not only fits Trump’s personality, but also reinforces some of his less admirable traits. There’s what we know about him, and there’s what we know about the game and that’s all it takes to get started.
Golf is the most self-referential of all sports. In golf, it really is all about you. There is no opponent who is trying to propel some object past you or knock you to the ground. You are not part of a team in which you have a defined and limited role. Teamwork, such as it exists in golf, consists of helping your partner read a putt, but then only when asked. There’s never a decision to be made between taking the shot or passing to a teammate. You always take the shot. It’s just you and your ball. Yes, there are external factors like the course or the elements, but everyone else is dealing with the same conditions. Your score is the reflection of how you, solely on your own, dealt with them.
So what game could possibly be better suited for a raging narcissist like our 45th President? It’s a perfect match.
Golf is the most social of sports. Let’s face it, there’s a lot of downtime in our game: waiting to hit your tee shot, driving or walking off in search of your tee shot, evaluating what club to use on your fifth shot, reconvening on the green for what we refer to as putting when what we’re really doing should be called An Appeal Process for Being Granted a Gimmee. As a result we have lots of time to talk.
Now, say what you will about our President, he does strike me as an especially social guy in the sort of superficial way that golfers can be. You know what I’m talking about: the kind of guy who’s introduced to you on the first tee, immediately forgets your name within five seconds of hearing it, and then proceeds to talk about himself for the next four hours. So once again, golf enables him to be in his element. He can josh and needle, sprinkle his commentary with names of the rich and famous he claims to know, boast about himself, talk about the courses he’s played and restaurants where he’s eaten. You know, be That Guy, the one that everyone thinks is a blowhard. I’ve read that at times Trump can be an amusing, or even charming blowhard, but he is one nonetheless, and the game has granted him a perfect stage upon which to strut. Try talking about yourself for four hours while cycling or playing tennis. You got to play golf to give yourself that amount of air time.
Golf places a premium on self-confidence. Now success in any sport requires self-confidence. But I think it could be argued that golf, perhaps more than any other sport, goes overboard in encouraging and rewarding a positive attitude about one’s self. Anyone who has read about the mental side of the game has been reminded over and over about “trusting your swing” and approaching each shot with resolve and commitment. We are told that we need to forget whatever has happened before and stay in the present moment, that quiet patch of time in which we proceed, with the utmost calm and confidence, to execute the next shot.
Now those of us who live in what a spokesperson for the Bush administration once called the “reality based world” can find it challenging to psyche ourselves up in this manner. Instead, we accumulate, over the course of a round, a pretty accurate mental catalogue of just how well we’re swinging the club that day. After skulling three pitch shots we are not brimming with confidence as we stand over the fourth. To approach it in any other manner would seem more than slightly self-delusional.
Ah, but imagine that you are not that way. Instead, think about believing that in any situation or any setting that you are simply the best, the greatest, the mostest of the most. What screw up? I don’t know what you’re talking about. It was the greatest whatever whenever.
Sound like anybody you’ve heard of? Again, no wonder he loves golf! It not only encourages him to forget any faults or errors, but rewards that very attitude.
Golf is a game of prestige. Having said that, there is nothing intrinsically elitist about the game. It grew out of a diversion for shepherds who needed something to do while tending their flocks. But then the English and Scottish aristocracies got hold of it, and thus began the long detour into increasing levels of exclusivity. Over the centuries the game has acquired the various trappings of prestige: the exclusive private club, the iconic courses, the whole array of expensive greens fees, equipment and other accoutrements.
But there is a critical distinction about this prestige: it is something that can–in most instances–be bought. It is all for sale. It is acquired through transaction, not accomplishment. Write the check and it can be yours. And thus, once again, we find ourselves smack dab in The Donald’s element. You can buy your way in, and if you’re him, set up a business built on charging other people the entrance fee. It’s all supposed to be very classy, but in the end, it’s all merchandise.
Golf is a game of honor that is easily debased. Golf is quite eager to proclaim itself a game of honor. Look at these players who called penalties on themselves! Look at all these rules that are fastidiously self-enforced by millions of players every weekend. And yet these noble examples stand out in a sea–or should I say swamp–of corruption.
We golfers are all familiar with the litany of ways that the score on any given hole can be adjusted, misrepresented or corrupted. Then there is the matter of posting a score at the end of a round so that the governing authority for your region can assign you an index, which in effect is your ID badge as a golfer.
Golf is a game of numbers that can be fudged. You know, like, tax returns. There is no other sport that offers so many opportunities to commit fraud. Basically you can present yourself as something you’re not: a 14-handicap, when 10 would be more accurate, or for those whose self-regard depends on appearance and labels, a 4-handicap when something higher would be a more accurate reflection of actual performance.
Golf is an hospitable environment for Trump because you can create all this maneuvering room between what you say you are and what you really are. You can brand yourself as something you aren’t and then you see how long you can get away with it.
I could go on, but I think we’ve covered the major points. You may have noticed that I didn’t discuss how golf–when played from a cart–can be particularly undemanding as a physical activity and therefore ideal for somebody like Trump who apparently believes that humans are–like batteries–born with a fixed amount of energy that will only be prematurely depleted if one exercises vigorously. That was too easy.
I read an article recently that, in passing, referred to Trump as the face of golf. In its own way, I found that one of more alarming implications of the current regime. He is not the face of the game I love. But at the same time it is worth considering, at least for those of us who play the game but disagree with his policies, that there is an almost symbiotic relationship between aspects of golf and the Trump personality. Look at how much he plays. He needs the game. It feeds him.