“Donald Trump is the worst cheat ever and he doesn’t care who knows,” Rick Reilly says as he describes a man he has known for 30 years. “I always say golf is like bicycle shorts. It reveals a lot about a man. And golf reveals a lot of ugliness in this president.”
Reilly, the former Sports Illustrated columnist, has written a book called Commander in Cheat: How Golf Explains Trump. It’s rattling good fun which also depicts the startling duplicity of the president as a golfer. “You’re mostly laughing,” Reilly says, “but at times you’re crying – how did this happen? As a golfer he really offends me. Cheating? Hate that. Driving carts on greens? Hate that. Wearing old dockers two sizes too small for him? Give me a break. Kicking your ball so often the caddies call you Pelé? I so hate that. Most of all I hate how stupid he’s making my country look. I hate what he’s doing to my planet. I hate what he’s doing to kids at the border. I don’t mind Republicans. I just can’t stand this guy. I love golf and he has set the game back 30 years. Just when it was becoming cool with Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler we get this fat bozo cheating his ass off.”
Dr Lance Dodes, a Harvard psychiatrist, tells Reilly that Trump is “a very ill man” who “exhibits all the traits of a narcissistic personality disorder.” Reilly sighs. “It’s terrible he should cheat at golf which is the one sport where we self-regulate. There are referees in every other sport but in golf, if you’re 200 yards away, you can kick the ball and get away with it. I called the National Golf Foundation. They said 90% of golfers don’t cheat. Golf is an honest game but this guy leaves a big ugly orange stain on it. It really pisses me off.”
Reilly’s anger towards Trump is made more interesting by the fact they have known each other for so long and that he admits he once almost liked the billionaire. “I liked him as a writer because he’s a crazy fabulist who tells lies so big they can float in the Macy’s parade. He’s great copy. If he says, ‘Can you be here tomorrow for an interview?’ I’d be on the red eye. I would do anything to get that interview but if I had to play golf with him again, and it wasn’t for an article, I’d never do it.
“The first time I met him we were playing in the Pebble Beach Pro-Am [in the late 1980s]. He comes over and says, ‘It’s Rick Reilly, the greatest sportswriter in the world.’ There’s always an angle with Trump. Marla Marples was his wife then and she said, ‘He’s your biggest fan. Look!’ She pulled one of my columns out of her purse like this is a set up. He wanted me to write a column about him but I had this idea of writing a book where I caddie for famous people. So we make a day for me to caddie for him but I turn up and he didn’t have anybody to play with. So I played him. That was the day he took the only gimme chip in I’ve ever seen. A chip is a gimme? Trump’s pretty good off the tee but he chips like Edward Scissorhands. He’ll cheat you on the course and then buy you lunch.”
Trump introduced Reilly to other people after their game. “He couldn’t just call me a writer. He’d say, ‘Meet Rick – he’s the president of Sports Illustrated.’ He would introduce me to another guy. ‘Hey, Rick, meet Luigi – voted best hamburger chef in the world.’ Luigi’s like ‘What? No, I wasn’t.’ Trump wants to be a winner by pretending you’re someone huge.
“His lies were hilarious until he becomes the most powerful man in the world. Then it got scary. I don’t know what his plan is for my kids and grandkids. I don’t know who’s going to pay off this giant debt he’s created to give his fat-cat buddies a tax cut. Look what he did [last] week in London. He pissed off two of our best allies. It’s terrifying.”
Trump’s deceit about his golfing achievements motivated Reilly to resume writing. “I was retired, living in Italy for three months a year, drinking Campari. I kept seeing on my Twitter feed [Reilly mimics Trump]: ‘I’m a champion. You should vote for me because I’ve won 18 club championships.’ Whoa! That’s a lie because you already told me how you did it. Whenever you open a new course, you play by yourself and declare yourself the first club champion.’ I’m like, ‘That’s a shitty lie.’
“He even said: ‘This is against the best players in the club. No strokes given’. What? I played with you. You’re a 10-handicapper at best. There’s no way you’re winning a club championship. I soon discovered many of them are senior championships for guys over 60 or 70. That’s a nice honour but it’s not within a par 5 of beating the club’s best players. Lots of guys said he wasn’t even in town when some championships were decided. He claimed to have won a tournament in New Jersey when he was actually in Philly. My dad would flip over three times in his grave and he was a Reagan Republican.”
What would Reilly’s father, who loved Jack Nicklaus, have said if he heard Trump claim his handicap was lower than the 18-times major winner? Trump insists he plays off a 2.8 handicap, while Nicklaus, aged 79, admits his handicap is now 3.5. “My dad would say, ‘I’ll take Nicklaus, you take Trump, and the loser has to sweep the streets of New York for the rest of their lives.’ Do you know how Trump does it? He has recorded only 20 scores in eight years even though he plays more golf than any other president. I put in my every score in the computer because that’s what you do in golf. At my club guys will put in your score for you if you’re avoiding it. Trump doesn’t put in scores. That’s so unethical.”
He rolls his eyes when I say Britain can hardly claim to have an ethical prime minister in Boris Johnson. “Are you kidding? Trump makes your guy look like Churchill. That guy [Johnson] looks like a genius.”
Reilly has clearly enjoyed writing about Trump’s shameless shenanigans but he is disappointed the president has remained unusually silent about his book. “This guy will tweet about a bad postcard but I can’t get a tweet to save my life. If he did tweet I know what he’d say. ‘Rick Reilly? I kicked his ass. He swings like a girl. This is FAKE NEWS!!!’ He’s got a buddy in LA who’s also my buddy. They talk once a week. My buddy’s said: ‘Don’t get in a Twitter war with Reilly. You’ll look stupid. And don’t say a word about the book. You’ll just fuel sales.’ I said to my buddy: ‘Who asked you?’
“I’ve offered Trump a $100,000 charity bet to play him. He has not responded. I’d bet my house I can beat him as long as there is a camera on both of us but he’s not going to play me. He’s not going to testify to the impeachment hearing because he can’t stop lying. And when you lie in front of Congress, you go to jail for perjury. As soon as he plays me in front of TV cameras it would come out how bad he is.”
Trump likes to denigrate his enemies as losers – and so the final line of Reilly’s book suggests that, when the president looks at his reflection, he will see “the face of a loser.” Reilly nods. “That was on purpose. My dad always told us that if you cheat then, ultimately, you’re cheating yourself. I wanted that to be the last word in the book because he is a loser. He’s the biggest loser I’ve ever met.”
Rick Reilly’s Commander in Cheat is published by Headline