Aug 05 2017

A Good Walk Spoiled

I might have mentioned I golf. My Grandfather was a fanatic and very good at it. His best gift to me ever, at least from his standpoint, was a set of plastic play clubs which I took to instantly. I, unfortunately for him, am very bad at it. My scorecards are filled with double pars, courtesies extended to true duffers so they’ll pick up the damn ball and move to the next tee and they don’t become a bottle neck on the course.

It doesn’t bother me, I play for fun and to the cup regardless (though I am also very courteous about letting people play through so they only have to suffer me for one hole). Mulligans? Winter Rules? Picking up any old ball you happen to find in the woods you drove into and throwing it back on the fairway (or just placing it there)? Sure! Who cares? Not my golfing buddies who are just as bad as I am. The one member of my regular foursome who is in the least bit serious will grit his teeth and play along, that is until he has a bad hole and then he will cheat like the rest of us.

I have played with “serious” golfers. It’s kind of a drag because you do actually have to pick up so you get less shots and while I know the rules well enough that I don’t usually embarrass myself there was this one occasion where I hit a tree branch on my backswing.

“You know, that’s a stroke.”

Really? No I didn’t, thank you for educating me.

It sounded much nicer than it reads. I did get him back though. On tees where hazards are in play if you drive the ball into the pond or swamp or trackless sandy desert where they’re building even more condos (Hey, balls through the windows are the price you pay) there’s this thing called a Drop Zone that (supposedly) takes the hazard out of your next shot and you can drop your ball there at a stroke penalty.

Or you can tee up and try again, also at a stroke penalty. It’s the macho thing to do.

Now I hate water hazards because balls are expensive and each one I lose is a drink at the 19th Hole (it’s not that there’s a bet, it’s they cost that much). Course designers love them even though they’re nothing but Mosquito factories and parking lots for the Geese who crap on the fairways (if you actually hit a bird, it’s a Birdie) and like to put one in front of every Par 3 because you’re supposed to Drive the Green and 2 Putt (I’ve had legit Pars on them, even Birdies, but that particular sequence of events only happened once).

So we’re at one of those, my “serious” golfer buddy and I, and he hits and Drives the Green and now it’s my turn.

And I teed up.

And I tossed some grass in the air to gauge the wind.

And I addressed the ball.

And I waggled.

And I waggled.

And I waggled.

And then I looked at the Green and frowned, stepped away from the ball, looked at my club (as if I didn’t know which one of the 14 you’re allowed I had), flicked away some non-existent pieces of grass and dirt from the face, looked at the Green again…

And went back to my bag, pulled out a different club, and went back to my ball which a gust of wind had blown off the tee, and repeated the process.

I didn’t look at my buddy once, my face a picture of concentration, until I picked up my ball, turned to him and said brightly- “So, where is that Drop Zone?”

Improved Lies

First Golfer: Donald Trump’s relationship with golf has never been more complicated
by Alan Shipnuck, Sports Illustrated
Tuesday August 1st, 2017

Playing golf with the 45th President of the United States offers a revealing character study of him. Donald Trump’s private clubs are where he feels most comfortable, and holding court with members and guests and employees is an important part of the ritual—in the pro shop, at the driving range and especially on the 1st tee, where Trump traditionally announces the teams for a friendly wager and will typically take the best player available for his partner.

SI spoke with numerous people who have teed it up with Trump over the years and all report that he doesn’t play a round of golf so much as narrate it, his commentary peppered with hyperbole. “Is this not the most beautiful asphalt you’ve ever seen in your life?” he’ll say of an ordinary cart path. At the turn he’ll ask, “Have you ever had a better burger?” Years ago Trump was mid-round when he took a long call from Mark Burnett, the producer of The Apprentice. He put down his phone just long enough to play his shots, at one point saying, “Wait one second here while I blast this 250-yard 3-wood.” Trump also lavishes attention on his playing partners. “We didn’t talk any business because there wasn’t time,” says Ernie Els, who last February played golf alongside Trump and Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe. “He was more focused on making sure me and the Japanese prime minister had a good time. He kept on the two of us, making sure we had a proper introduction, making conversation, just being a good host.”

Trump always takes a cart and a caddie, whom he pays well. He insists on driving. Recent footage that showed him navigating his cart across a green at his club in Bedminster, N.J., generated horror in the golf press, but this is old news at Trump’s clubs, where he has been known to drive onto tee boxes too.

As for his game, Trump is surprisingly limber for a portly man of 6’ 2″, and his good eye-hand coordination shows through in all aspects of his play, but especially in his ability to hole putts, which he does with a wristy, old-fashioned stroke that is nothing like the method preferred by the best players today. On the backswing of his full shots, he takes the club inside and, impressively, gets his left shoulder well behind the ball. He then makes a lunging, down-the-line swing with his feet dancing through the finish. It’s not pretty, but it repeats and it’s a swing with rhythm and power. “He’s a much better golfer than you think he’d be because he hits the ball a long way,” says Phil Mickelson. “He has clubhead speed, and there’s no substitute for that.” Trump favors the latest in TaylorMade equipment, owing to a long-standing friendship with Mark King, the company’s former CEO. But when Prime Minister Abe gave Trump a gold-colored Honma Beres S-05 driver, it went straight into the bag. (Retail price of the club: $3,755. The gift was made in November, and as President-elect, Trump was permitted to accept a gift that he would not have been allowed to take after the inauguration; Presidents are forbidden from accepting a present from a foreign government with a value that exceeds $390.)

Trump will sometimes respond to a shot he duffed by simply playing a second ball and carrying on as if the first shot never happened. In the parlance of the game, Trump takes floating mulligans, usually more than one during a round. Because of them it is impossible to say what he has actually shot on any given day, according to 18 people who have teed it up with Trump over the last decade, including SI senior writer Michael Bamberger, who has done so nine times. In 2007, Trump called Bamberger to brag about a 68 he had shot at Bel-Air Country Club in Los Angeles. Trump’s handicap index is officially 2.8, but he has posted only three scores since ’14. Els, a South Florida resident who has known Trump for many years, estimates he is “an eight or a nine.” For Trump to shoot 68 on a tough course like Bel-Air would require him to play nearly perfectly from tee to green while making a number of substantial putts. One of his playing partners that day confirmed that Trump played “good,” but that he took all the usual liberties common among everyday golfers: mulligans, gimmes, improved lies, etc. There was no mention of the 68 in a subsequent story, and Bamberger heard about it from Trump.

In a 2013 tweet aimed at entrepreneur Mark Cuban, Trump wrote, “Golf match? I’ve won 18 Club Championships including this weekend. @mcuban swings like a little girl with no power or talent. Mark’s a loser.” Trump has never made public a list of his club titles, and fact-checking calls to all of the Trump properties on this subject went universally un-returned.

Golf is never far from the President’s mind, it seems. In perhaps the most cogent analysis of how he took the electoral college while losing the popular vote, he told The New York Times, “It’s like, if you’re a golfer, it’s like match play versus stroke play.” To illustrate his contention of widespread voting fraud, according to a story in the Times, Trump cited to a gathering of lawmakers that two-time Masters champ Bernhard Langer had been unable to vote at a polling place in Florida while several people “who did not look as if they should be allowed to vote” were permitted to cast provisional ballots. One complication with this spurious anecdote: Langer, a German national, is not a U.S. citizen and is not eligible to vote here. In feting Clemson’s national football championship, Trump likened the team’s iron will to Jack Nicklaus’s and Arnold Palmer’s. In a meeting with business leaders at the White House, Trump coaxed Jeff Immelt, the CEO of General Electric, into telling the story of having witnessed the President make a hole in one years earlier. While TV cameras rolled, Immelt said, “President Trump goes up to a par-3 on his course. He looks at the three of us and says, ‘You realize, of course, I’m the richest golfer in the world.’ Then [he] gets a hole in one. So I have to say, I’ve seen the magic before.”

Here Trump interjected, “It’s a crazy—no, I actually I said I was the best golfer of all the rich people, to be exact, and then I got a hole in one. So it was sort of cool.”

On the campaign trail Trump mocked Barack Obama for playing golf too often, but since taking office Trump has spent some part of more than 20% of his days at a golf club. (Exactly how many rounds he’s played is subject to conjecture because the White House refuses to confirm when the President tees it up, even on days when he’s spotted with clubs in tow.)

And now he’s going to spend 17 days in Bedminster and I can only say I wish it were more.

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