President Trump's golf game includes big-name pros, plenty of controversy

Oct 1, 2017; Jersey City, NJ, USA; President Donald J. Trump (left) hands the Presidents Cup trophy to U.S. team Captain Steve Stricker after the final round singles matches of The President's Cup golf tournament at Liberty National Golf Course. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

President Trump's golf game includes big-name pros, plenty of controversy

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President Trump's golf game includes big-name pros, plenty of controversy

One year after his election, President Trump’s golf game continues to attract lots of attention – whether he likes it or not – and some big-time pros.

Trump played 9 holes with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and world No. 4 golfer Hideki Matsuyama Sunday during his current Asia trip.

A Trump administration official told CNN that no one kept score Sunday. It was not clear if Trump used the  $3,755 gold-plated driver Abe gifted him last year.

When Trump played host to Abe in Florida earlier this year, he brought along his pal Ernie Els for that match.

Matsuyama said during the WGC-HSBC Champions he planned to keep the conversation away from politics and that it was “an honor” to play with the two leaders. Matsuyama earned three PGA Tour victories and tied for second at the US Open before struggling later in 2017.

Trump was effusive his in praise of Matsuyama, who averaged 303 yards off the tee this past season.

“[Matsuyama] is the greatest player in the history of Japan,” Trump told reporters en-route to Japan. “Possibly their greatest celebrity … He’s a truly great player, a great athlete … If I come back and say I was longer than him, don’t believe it.”

Game has changed

Golf was once a respite for the commander in chief. The time any president ever spent on the course was rarely noticed by the masses and only covered by media types as a perfunctory task.

As many as 16 presidents, including Trump, have played golf on a regular basis. The golfing skills of our national leaders have ranged from pretty good (Eisenhower was a member of Augusta National) to horrid (Calvin Coolidge left his clubs at the White House). Political pot shots and late-night jokes (meaning Johnny Carson jabs) came with the territory, but not much else.

The golf course has become a metaphorical battlefield in modern day politics – along with just about everywhere else. Bunkers offer little shelter from attacks on social media and elsewhere. Our partisan divide has torn up every green played by Trump and his immediate predecessors.

Whatever noise came with the hearty golf appetite of President Obama has been magnified by infinity given President Trump’s love of the links.

Any “official” accounting of his golfing trips is “unofficial” since the White House does not those numbers public and often avoids discussing his outings. The Washington Post’s Philip Bump has been tracking Trump’s golf forays in 2017.

“Trump vs. Obama golf” turns up more than 1 million hits on Google. A site called TrumpGolfCount.com has Trump’s number of golf outings at 73 since he took office.

Give me Liberty National

Some outings since Trump’s election have been far more visible than others. The press is often kept away from his rounds, especially when they occur at one his own resorts in Virginia, Florida or New Jersey.

  • Trump presented the Presidents Cup trophy to the victorious U.S. team on Oct. 1 at Liberty National. During that ceremony, Trump dedicated the U.S. victory to the people of Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico who had been affected by recent hurricanes. He was the first current president to take part in the trophy ceremony.

  • When Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) Tweeted that Trump shot a 73 during one of their rounds in October – it triggered a free-for-all among golf and media types over whether or not the claim was true.

  • Trump was caught on video driving his cart across the green on a hole at Trump National Bedminster in New Jersey in the spring and, naturally, the internet went nuts.

  • With Trump in attendance, Sung Hyun Park closed with consecutive 67s to win the U.S. Women’s Open at Trump National Bedminster. Trump’s presence drew plenty of attention, along with noise from protesters (outside the gates) and supporters inside.

  • Matsuyama is merely the latest major golf pro who has shared a round with Trump since his election a year ago Wednesday. Trump joined Tiger Woods on Dec. 23, 2016. They played at Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach, Fla. Woods was easing his way back into golf for the umpteenth time. Woods tapped out of 2017 at Dubai in February but plans to play at the Hero World Challenge starting Nov. 29. “What most impressed me was how far he hits the ball at 70 years old. He takes a pretty good lash,” Woods wrote in a blog post. “We both enjoyed the bantering, bickering and needling … We didn’t have a match and played for fun.”

  • Rory McIlroy was “taken aback by the blow-back“which has become inevitable for anyone who comes close to Trump after he posted in February about a round of golf they shared. McIlroy added he would “think twice” about playing golf with Trump again because of the negative reaction. “It was, quite simply, a round of golf. Golf was our common ground, nothing else,” McIlroy said. In August, McIlroy told CBS News he enjoyed playing with Trump but that the president “does play fast” adding: “Sometimes he will give himself some putts, but that’s fine, he’s the president he can have that luxury.”

  • Lexi Thompson first met Trump at the 2009 U.S. Girls’ Junior at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J. She began playing out of Trump International in West Palm Beach, Fla., in 2012.  She has played with Trump before and after he began his political career. Like McIlroy, Thompson said she avoids politics during her rounds with the president. “No, no, no, no. I’m not into politics, so honestly I can’t even ask him anything,” she told Golfweek.

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