Rick Reilly has a problem with Donald Trump, and it isn’t the standard one for those whose words or deeds put them in the critical crosshairs of the president of the United States.
Reilly, one of the most successful sportswriters of his generation, has written a book depicting Trump as a liar, cheat, and braggart — and that’s just the warm-up act — but Trump has yet to respond.
The president isn’t noted for his restraint when it comes to firing back at his foes on social media. In his more than 800 days in office, Trump has thumbed out in excess of 30,000 posts on Twitter. He has commented on everything from the Super Bowl to Penn Jillette’s Las Vegas act to the Florida Power and Light utility company, but not yet a whisper concerning Commander in Cheat, Reilly’s 244-page examination of how Trump’s golf game reveals his true character.
Would a stray tweet be too much to ask for a man trying to sell a few books?
“For me, you get sensible?” Reilly says. “I want him to tweet. I’ve got a basement to redo.”
This is unlikely. One cannot imagine Reilly has delayed purchasing the laminate paneling for the ping-pong room because of this.
During more than two decades at Sports Illustrated, a few years at ESPN, and over a career that has produced a dozen books and some successful screenplays, Reilly has done well enough for himself. He and his wife live on a serene stretch of the Pacific Ocean, except, of course, for the two months a year they spend in Italy.
He “retired” five years ago, to concentrate on novels and screenplays, and was stirred from his coffee-shop noodling only by the golfing exploits of Donald J. Trump.
“This guy was putting an orange splotch on my game,” Reilly says.
Now, the book is out — it was officially released Tuesday — and the author wants as many people as possible to see it (read: buy it) and understand just how the president’s loathsome habits on the golf course translate into similar behavior in the Oval Office, or under whichever golf-resort desk his spikes happen to rest.
The first weeks are the most critical, and the New York Times bestseller list is where you find the official standings. It is a little like the early college football rankings. If Reilly (Michigan) starts the season behind Preet Bharara (Oklahoma), or John Grisham (Clemson), or, God help him, Michelle Obama (Alabama), good luck making up ground before the big bowl weekend (Father’s Day).
In lieu of Trump’s help, Reilly is hustling. He held a reading and book signing Thursday hosted by Wellington Square Books in Exton.
That was just one stop on a three-day New York-to-Washington blur that included appearances on NPR, CNN, MSNBC and some late-night variety shows, and many radio hits as he bunkered down in hotel rooms along the way. Then, it was a Friday redeye back to Los Angeles, and the same sort of tour up and down the West Coast. It kind of looked like work.
“This is something I had to get off my chest. I did not enjoy this. I got anger blisters typing,” Reilly said as he devours dinner on Thursday after the reading, his first real meal in days, according to him. “If you cheat at golf, you cheat at elections, you cheat on your taxes, you cheat on your wife. This book is trying to get that across. Maybe I don’t know politics, but I know golf. This guy’s a scumbag.”
Reilly grew up in a golfing family in Boulder, Colo., and was taught to respect the strict codes of how the game should be played. His late father revered Jack Nicklaus, and wore a yellow shirt every round as a nod to the Bear’s attire during the final day of the 1986 Masters. Each year, when the extended Reilly clan gathers to play and remember the old man, everyone wears a yellow shirt. So, yeah, this stuff runs deep with him.
The book itself is a thorough job of reporting on Trump’s approach to golf, culled from interviews with many playing partners, opponents, caddies, touring pros, and anyone who came within a three-iron of the president on the course.
The tale swings from Cobbs Creek, where Trump learned the grittier aspects of the game from various grifters and hustlers during his time at Wharton, to the posh marbled hallways of various Trump courses across the country. At Trump Philadelphia, a nice-enough course in Pine Hill, N.J., the president tells anyone who will listen that it is superior to Pine Valley, just down the road.
“Everybody says so,” Reilly quotes Trump as saying, pointing out that “everybody” almost exclusively refers to people who work for Trump.
On the course, according to the book, Trump is full of shenanigans. He hits first off the tee, then zooms down the fairway in what Reilly calls “a Super Mario golf cart,” while the others are still hitting.
Amazingly, what appeared to be a certain poor lie never seems to turn out that way. Balls that leave ripples in a water hazard magically appear on the bank. Any putt within six feet or so is raked in as a “gimme.” His caddies become complicit with their own foot wedges, and replacement golf balls that are dropped surreptitiously from a hole in the pocket to offset an errant shot into the woods.
“He tips well,” one caddie tells Reilly.
It’s a merry tale, and also includes a look at the 18 club championships claimed by Trump, some of which were achieved by playing the first round on a new course and declaring that the “championship.”
“He’s got a nose so long he can putt with it,” Reilly says. “Golf tells you exactly who a person is.”
There is a famous quote, variously attributed: “Sport doesn’t build character. It reveals it.” This is the core of Reilly’s case against the president, and, given the author’s avowed dedication to the mores of golf, it is the motivation behind the book and the anger blisters.
“I didn’t want to write it,” Reilly says.