Ferdinand Marcos, the deposed Philippine president, is not only accused of falsifying his World War II record, looting his country's economy and manipulating elections. He also cheated at golf.
That, at least, is the contention of one of Marcos' former golf partners, M.J. (Dindo) Gonzalez, who writes a column on the sport for the Manila newspaper Business Day.
In his "Golfmate" column this week, Gonzalez commented on the ousted president's game in terms that, he said, would have gotten him shot or jailed if Marcos were still in power. In the process, Gonzalez punctured what he said was the myth that Marcos, long an avid player, was once the world's best golfing president.
"His game was the mediocre, run-of-the-mill type that carried a handicap of around 18 strokes," wrote Gonzalez, who said he knew Marcos as "Ferdie" when he first played with him in the early 1950s. He said he played with Marcos frequently until a couple of years after Marcos was first elected president in 1965, but that Marcos "could not have improved much since his form was not according to the known fundamentals."
After Marcos became president, Gonzalez wrote, he acquired a worldwide reputation as a low-handicap player. But one of the ways he did this was by allowing his caddies to lower his scores on the cards, the columnist said.
In addition, "with so many of his bodyguards trailing, he always seemed to get a good lie and seldom, if at all, found himself in a rough," Gonzalez wrote. The bodyguards "kept the ball not only in play, but, I suspect, also kicked it nearer the hole after a shot. Thus, Marcos' handicap dropped from 14 to 10, and he became known as the chief executive with the lowest handicap in the world."
Did he really mean, Gonzalez was asked in an interview, that Marcos actually would cheat at this genteel sport of the Philippine country club set?
"Yes!" was the emphatic reply.
Gonzalez, 68, who is the same age as Marcos, has been writing a golf column for 35 years and says he never tires of the game, or of observing people's behavior on the links. He said he has had many chances to observe Marcos since they first played together 30-odd years ago at the Wack Wack Golf and Country Club on the outskirts of Manila.
"When Marcos played golf, he showed his character," Gonzalez said. He used his caddies, aides and bodyguards to do the dirty work, he added. "You could never pin anything on him personally."
One of the character traits Gonzalez said he noticed in Marcos -- also noted by politicians who knew him well -- was an ability to look a person straight in the eye and tell him something that both knew to be untrue. Gonzalez said he first noticed that ability when Marcos told him his golf scores.
Marcos liked to bet, Gonzalez said, usually in the relatively small range of $50-$75 per nine holes, although he was willing to accommodate bigger wagers.
"In the beginning he used to pay his debts," Gonzalez said. "When he became president, he didn't anymore. But people had to pay him."
Some of Marcos' golfing buddies, who later became his business cronies, used to play for high stakes in those early days, Gonzalez recalled. One of them once lost a brand-new Cadillac in a golf match. These high-rolling cronies became known as the country club's "Big Mafia," while Marcos was included in the "Small Mafia," he said.
He said he fell out with Marcos around 1967 when he suspected his telephone had been tapped in connection with a political favor that the president had asked him to perform. During Marcos' 20-year rule, he said, Gonzalez often despaired when he saw the president's golfing friends grow fabulously wealthy because of their connections to the Malacanang presidential palace.
On the other hand, he said, golfing with "Ferdie" had its drawbacks, especially because he used to beat Marcos consistently.
"It stopped being pleasant when he became president," the columnist said of his golf outings with Marcos and friends. "He didn't feel good when he lost. He would say, 'Well, you won this time, but wait till next time. I'll get you.'
"We used to tremble when he said that," Gonzalez said, "because we were never quite sure what he meant."