Rick Reilly, the longtime sports columnist and author, begins his book about the president of the United States this way: “In the 30 years I’ve known Donald Trump, I never believed anything he said, but the wink-wink of it was that I never thought he believed any of it either.”
Trump, whom Reilly calls “a fun, full-of-it fabulist,” is reportedly notorious among golfers, caddies and celebrities as a cheater at golf, the sport that gives him 19 chances to win — 18 holes and the final score — in every round he plays. It’s his need to win that leads Trump to kick balls back on the green, fudge his scorecards and lie about his handicap, Reilly reports in “Commander in Cheat.”
The Colorado native, whose byline appeared in the Boulder Daily Camera and The Denver Post decades ago, is back in town for book signings at Tattered Cover’s Colfax location at 2 p.m. Saturday and Boulder Bookstore at 5 p.m. Sunday.
He sat down with The Post this week to talk golf, Trump and truth. This conversation has been edited for length.
Trump’s cheating at golf really bothered you. Is that what led to the book?
Yeah! I was retired. I was loving life. People were like, “You’re going to hate retirement.” I love it. I live three months of the year in Italy. I was playing piano, I was paddle-boarding, living at the beach in L.A., and this guy (Trump) was pissing me off with stuff on my phone, on Twitter, in speeches during the campaign. Like, “I’m a champion; I’ve won 18 club championships.” No, you didn’t, you liar! Because you told me how you did a bunch of them. He forgot he told me. He said, “You know what I do? I play the first round of any course I buy by myself and then that’s it, I’m a champion.”
And he plays super seniors and calls that a club championship. I realize this is kind of golf-y, but it’s like the difference between Betty White and Vanna White. Super seniors are for if you’re over 70 and you win a club championship with those guys. Which is great, knock yourself out! But don’t call that a club championship and don’t say on Twitter that’s against the best players in the club. It isn’t! And then, as I researched deeper, he was winning club championships he wasn’t even entered in. Who does that?
He cheats in ways, and lies in ways, that he can’t even expect to get away with. Why does he do that?
Why do people let him get away with it? I don’t know why, it’s just that he has to win. His dad always said, “Win, win, win, at all costs.” But he never said, “Don’t cheat.” He didn’t say, “Cheat but don’t get caught.” He just said, “Win.” My buddy played with (Donald Trump) and he said, “Is that how we’re doing it? We’re cheating on the first hole, Donald?” And (Trump) goes, “Ah, the guys I play with, you’ve got to cheat just to keep up. They’re going to cheat you.” I honestly think that’s what he believes. And it’s not just about golf. I think he constantly thinks everybody’s trying to cheat him and he’s got to cheat first.
People always ask, why does it matter how the president plays golf, how he conducts himself in golf, how he cheats, how he lies about his handicap, lies about how good his courses are? Because how you do one thing is how you do everything, to me. Golf is a litmus test into your soul because it’s so unimportant. It’s the easiest sport to cheat at and that we don’t cheat in golf is kind of a good feeling. Because you can’t know what I’m doing 150 yards up there and I can’t know what you’re doing. So, we just trust one another because that’s how it’s always been. It doesn’t feel good to say, “Oh, I beat you,” when I know I cheated. I can’t sleep.
So, if he’s going to cheat that way, why wouldn’t he cheat during an election? Why wouldn’t he cheat when it comes to the Russians? Why wouldn’t he cheat on his taxes? Why wouldn’t he have a reason to abandon Puerto Rico? It’s all linked, all this stuff.
You mention in the book that you’ve met people who agree with him politically but will not vote for him because he drives on greens. Is that right?
I heard from a couple people on Twitter, “I will never vote for him because he drives on greens.” That is the holy evil of evil! It’s like if you go to dinner at Le Cirque and you take your cigar and put it out on someone’s salad. You just don’t do it because a green is such a tender thing, like a baby’s face or something. Every little hump or mark can send your putt offline.
That guy (Trump) is like a horse loose in a hospital. You go, “How in the hell did a horse get in a hospital?” How is this guy representing golf when he doesn’t play by the rules? He doesn’t use etiquette. Whoever wins the last hole plays first on the next hole. He doesn’t. He always plays first. He doesn’t wait for you to hit, which is rude. He’s always 100 yards away so he can (expletive) with his ball. He doesn’t take off his cap when the round’s over. He doesn’t post his true score, which is how he ends up with a completely full-of-crap 2.8 handicap.
The book has a lot of funny moments. If people just say, “It was a funny book, I had a lot of fun with it,” is that enough? Or do you need people to get something more from it?
Golf is like bicycle shorts: It reveals a lot about a man. It’s a litmus test for a guy. Arnold Palmer used to say, “I never get into business with a guy until I’ve played golf with him.” I asked why. He said, “Because you can’t hide who you are in four hours. It’s not that I care how he plays — what he scores. I care how he behaves. Because if he’s going to cheat me in golf — and he will over four hours, if he’s a cheater — then he’s going to cheat me in business. And he’s going to cheat on his taxes, and I’ll be involved in that. If he’s going to lose his temper in golf, then he’s going to lose his temper in a board meeting.”
That’s what I want people to remember: It’s not that golf is important — it’s not important! — it’s what it says about you.
Were you worried at all writing about a political figure? You’ve probably met athletes who don’t talk about their politics because they figure they’ll lose half their fan base. Any concern that you’d write about politics and lose fans?
I was retired, so I don’t care. I was done.
People don’t know quite where to put (“Commander in Cheat”) in the bookstore. Is it political? Is it biography? Is it humor? Is it sports? Is it golf? And sports radio people are scared to death of it. They don’t want to subtract 40 percent of their listeners. But it is funny and it’s not political — it’s not about immigration, it’s not about abortion. It’s not really about anything controversial except what’s inside the guy’s soul. And I think that’s worth looking at.
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