We haven’t heard much from sportswriter Rick Reilly since he wrote his last ESPN.com column in 2014 and last appeared on the network itself in 2016, but he has been keeping busy, most notably with writing “Commander in Cheat: How Golf Explains Trump,” which was released Tuesday. Based on the advance notice and a Golf.com excerpt, the book is about exactly what its title suggests: that President Trump’s extremely casual attitude toward the rules of the game are a reflection on his presidency as a whole.
Reilly is making the promotional rounds as the book goes on sale, and he appeared Tuesday on MSNBC. If there’s one surefire way to sell a book, it’s to challenge the president of the United States to a $100,000 golf match.
“I want to play him,” Reilly said. “I think I’m a 4.5 [handicap]. He’s a 2.8. If he plays the 2.8, I’ll play him for 100 grand, [with the money going to] either of our charities. But the rule is, we can’t play his course, we can’t use his cheating caddies, and there’s got to be a rule guy with each of us, and I’ll play him all day.”
“He cheats like a mafia accountant,” Reilly said. “He cheats crazy, he cheats whether you’re watching or not, he cheats whether you like it or not. He tried to cheat Tiger Woods in a match; Tiger hits it like this, [Trump] hits two balls in the water, doesn’t count either and pretends that he almost tied Tiger Woods. So it doesn’t matter who he is; he has to be the winner.
“What really bothers me is that he told people on the campaign trail . . . he said, ‘I’m a winner; you got to vote for me because I’ve won 18 club championships’ — he says this three or four times — ‘and that’s against the best players in the club.’ But I knew he was lying because he told me how he does it. Whenever he opens a new course that he buys, he plays the first round by himself and calls that the club championship, puts his name on the wall.”
Reilly also said Trump tells his courses to award him the club championship because of a score he shot at an entirely different course, and that he claims club championships when they’re really senior club championships.
Trump claimed his latest club championship — his 20th — last year at Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach, Fla., but Golf.com’s Michael Bamberger discovered that it only came about after Trump challenged that year’s actual club champion — Ted Virtue, the CEO of a New York investment firm — to a nine-hole match-play contest, which Trump won and thus declared himself co-champion (though a plaque on his locker lists him as the sole winner).
The president’s on-course cheating has been well-documented, even before Reilly’s book, a notion that has not been dispelled by a number of his famous playing partners:
— Suzann Pettersen, LPGA pro: “He cheats like hell. So I don’t know how he is in business. They say if you cheat at golf, you cheat at business. I’m pretty sure he pays his caddie well, since no matter how far into the woods he hits the ball, it’s in the middle of the fairway when we get there.”
— Actor Samuel L. Jackson, when asked who was the better golfer: “Oh, I am, for sure. I don’t cheat.” Jackson also alleged in 2015 that one of Trump’s golf clubs tried to bill him for membership fees even though he was not a member.
— Alice Cooper, 1970s shock-rocker and noted golf enthusiast: “The worst celebrity golf cheat? I wish I could tell you that. It would be a shocker. I played golf with Donald Trump one time. That’s all I’m going to say.”
Trump, who many admit actually does have some skill as a golfer, has denied just about all of that.
In his 2004 book “Who’s Your Caddy?” Reilly told tales of caddying for the “great, near great and reprobates of golf.” One of those people (the last category, one has to assume) was a pre-presidency Trump, a round Reilly was asked about in 2015 by The Post’s Ben Terris.
“Reilly told The Washington Post about an afternoon when Trump wrote down scores he didn’t actually achieve on his scorecard, conceded putts to himself by raking the ball into the hole with his putter rather than striking it properly (‘He rakes like my gardener!’), and even called a gimme — something a player might claim for a two-foot putt — on what should have been a chip shot,” Terris wrote.
“ ‘He took the world’s first gimme chip-in,’ Reilly said. At one point, Trump, after taking a number of second shots, told Reilly to ‘make sure you write that I play my first ball. You don’t get a second ball in life.’ In life, it may or may not be true that a person gets a second chance; and yet, as Reilly wrote, on holes 1, 13 and 17, Trump did indeed get a second ball.”
Responded Trump, then running for president: “I always thought he was a terrible writer. I absolutely killed him, and he wrote very inaccurately. I would say that he’s a very dishonest writer. . . . I never took a gimme chip shot. . . . I don’t do gimme chip shots. If I asked his approval, that’s not cheating, number one. Number two, I never took one.”
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