It would be tempting to say MSNBC's Morning Joe missed April Fool's Day by a day, but on Tuesday, the morning show invited sports writer Rick Reilly on for a very serious conversation about his new book Commander In Cheat and President Trump's golf game.
In the greatest intersection of golf and politics since Antonin Scalia's epic dissent in PGA Tour v. Martin, Reilly and Morning Joe sought to explain how Trump's golfing abilities explain his political career. In the same way Trump is a politician who lies all the time, they argued, he is a lying and cheating golfer as well. The only thing missing was a comparison to Kim Jong-il.
Reilly could not imagine why anyone would cheat or bend the truth to some extent on the links. He called a story of Trump hitting his ball into the water multiple times on the same hole, only to say he was putting for four. For Reilly, this sort of lie explains Trump. He recalled a conversation he had with Arnold Palmer who told him that he always played a round of golf with a would-be business partner, '"Because in four hours you can't hide who you are. So, if he cheats on the course, he'll cheat in business. If he's honest and fun, he'll be honest and fun in business."'
Certainly golf is a game of etiquette and players are trusted to be honest and apply the rules themselves, especially for those who play competitively or take their game seriously. For others who just want to have a good time, the use of the foot wedge or turning a six into a four is not a scandal.
However, according to Reilly, Trump is the kind of golfer who takes his game seriously and accused him of lying about his club championships. Co-host Joe Scarborough piled on the Golfer-in-Chief, also accusing him of lying about his scores. Reilly then charged that Trump selectively selected his best rounds to lower his handicap.
Has Trump been completely truthful about his golf game? Probably not. But it is not a national scandal that golfers fudge their handicap or take creative liberties with the USGA rule book.
Here is a transcript for the April 2 show:
7:50 AM ET
JOE SCARBOROUGH: Rick…
MIKA BRZEZINSKI: There you go
Scarborough: …thank you so much for being with us. Explain…
RICK REILLY: Actually Joe, he actually did cheat Tiger Woods. He was playing in a match with Tiger and Dustin Johnson and he playing with a guy named Brad Faxon on his team and he hits the second shot in the water, kind of chunks it, and says to Faxon “throw me another one. He didn't see.” So, Faxon’s like “what?” “Throw me another ball” so Faxon throws him another ball. He chunks that in the water. Then goes in and drops and says he was putting for four. He should be putting for six. Tiger hit for birdie so it didn't matter. That's the kind of golfer he is.
SCARBOROUGH: That really explains when you walk into his office or old office in Trump Tower he would have all of the club trophies from his clubs. All the championships that he won and he would sit there pointing at every one of the club championships and he just sat there sort of smiling going, “Yes, I know how you won the club championship at your own clubs.” So talk about how golf explains Donald Trump.
REILLY: Well, exactly. I used to be friends with Arnold Palmer. He never played a round, never got in business with a guy unless he played a round of golf with him first. I asked why and he said “Because in four hours you can't hide who you are. So, if he cheats on the course he'll cheat in business. If he's honest and fun, he'll be honest and fun in business.” But, that’s what made me write the book Joe. I was sitting here reading tweets, he’s saying he said he won 18 club championships and I'm like “you liar. Because you told me how you did it” when I played with you years he said when he buy as new course he plays the first-round by himself and call that the club championship. So I started looking into, started calling around. People said” Oh yeah. One day he was at Trump Philly and we played the club championship at Trump Bedminster and he called who won the championship.” They said Joe Schmoe shot 76” and Trump goes “I shot 73 up here at Trump Philly. Make me the champion.” So, when you walk into the clubhouse his name is instead of Joe Schmoe, it's Trump. The thing that bothers me, okay, golf, fine. But when he started campaigning on this as “I'm a winner. I can close out. I've won 18 club championships against the best players.” It bothered me. I don't know anything about politics. You guys know about politics. But I know about golf. You don’t get to do that and about ten were super senior championships which is not the club championship at all.
SCARBOROUGH: Boy, you know, you see tweets from Lindsey Graham who goes out and golfs with him and other Republicans who are just sycophants and he said “Really enjoyed a round of golf with President Trump today. President Trump shot a 73 in windy and wet conditions!” Yeah, no Donald Trump wouldn't shoot a 73 like on the top of the Rocky Mountains on a par three course.
REILLY: A friend of mine asked Trump about that day, and he said, “Yeah 73, but nobody putted out.” I’m like “Putting out is the whole game. That’s the hard part” The PGA Senior Championship was held at Trump D.C., Which isn't in D.C. at all and Tom Kite, Corey Pavin, Tom Watson, none of them broke 76 in windy conditions from the same tees. So, would you rather have Tom Watson or Donald Trump playing your ball? I mean the lies are so crazy that it totally colors whatever he says to me about anything else.
SCARBOROUGH: So, the most important thing about this Steve is it is a window into his soul. Like Arnold Palmer, if somebody is going cheat you over four hours of golf they will cheat you in business deals and in life.
STEVE RATTNER: Sure. In that vein you take a guy that's made a billion dollars or more, but seems to think he has to have it be 10 billion. In golf people say he's not actually a bad golfer. He can hit the ball the long way, he’s pretty good at it, so why can’t he just settle for a decent score? Why does it have to be everything you just said?
REILLY: I don't know. If you go on the index, the USGA, you can look up his handicap and it's 2.8. It took him eight years to post enough scores to get a handicap. He played 66 times last year. He's cherry picking his best rounds to stick in the computer. Why? Everybody, who’s played with him, pros, Nicklaus, they all say he’s about a nine. Why isn't that good enough?
RATTNER: That's my question. Why isn’t that good enough?
REILLY: He couldn't cover that 2.8 with chili, there’s no way I would play for my house at a 2.8 with him. He's a 10. 10’s good. He’s 73, he has a great follow through. He can’t chip. He either throws it out of the bunker or chips around and people have told me not only does he throw his bunker out of the bunker, he takes balls on the friends if you're not around and throws yours into the bunker. It's incredible that this guy passes himself off as this great golfer, he’s a good golfer, but he's not a great golfer as he wants you to believe.
BRZEZINSKI: That’s the book
SCARBOROUGH: That is actually -- Mika and I were asked to be on "The Apprentice," …
BRZEZINSKI: “The Apprentice,” yeah
SCARBOROUGH: “Celebrity Apprentice,” whatever it was. And there was -- we did the golf round with him and I've been around a lot of really good golfers and he is a good golfer. But the guy does have a good swing. He's got a great follow through. He can hit the ball pretty darn hard, you're right. He's an eight, a nine, ten handicap. I've played with two handicaps. He ain't a two handicap.
REILLY: By the way, I checked, like only 3% or 4% people over 70 are under a ten handicap, so it’s a terrific golf game for his age, but why must you cheat. You know, I once wrote, “Golf is like bicycle shorts. It reveals a lot about a guy.” What his game revealed in this book Commander in Cheat you might want to take a shower afterwards.