Donald Trump May Be In The Rough Politically, But He's Still Got (Golf) Game President Trump plays a lot of golf. But not nearly as much as Woodrow Wilson.
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Trump, The Golfer In Chief

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Trump, The Golfer In Chief

Trump, The Golfer In Chief

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(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

LYNN NEARY, HOST:

And are you looking for the president?

(SOUNDBITE OF MONTAGE)

SETH MEYERS: Donald Trump has spent a lot of time as president golfing and tweeting.

RANDI KAYE: The president teed it up with professional golfer Rory McIlroy at Trump International.

JEANNE MOOS: Golf Digest called him the golfer in chief.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: President Trump for the birdie.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Those hands can hit a golf ball 285 yards.

NEARY: This week on Out of Bounds, the commander in chief on the links. President Trump is very much at home on a golf course. After all, his name is on 17 of them. Here's NPR's Scott Horsley.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Whatever historians ultimately write on his presidential scorecard, Donald Trump may be the best golfer ever to occupy the Oval Office.

JAIME DIAZ: He's won club championships. Of course, they've all been at his club which, you know, is sometimes fodder for jokes.

HORSLEY: Jaime Diaz is a senior writer at Golf Digest who's played with Trump on a couple of occasions. He says the president golfs the way he governs, largely by instinct. But his swing is not as reckless as it might appear.

DIAZ: He has this sort of bombastic image obviously, well-earned. And you'd expect someone who probably has kind of a show-offy (ph), ego-driven kind of game. But in fact, it's a game of control, I would say.

HORSLEY: At age 70, Trump typically shoots in the 70s or low 80s. John F. Kennedy was probably the second-best golfing president, though he didn't play much in public. Kennedy tried to distance himself from his golf-crazy predecessor Dwight Eisenhower. Historian Mike Trostel of the U.S. Golf Association says the first time Kennedy walked into the Oval Office, he was surprised to find cleat marks on the battered hardwood floor.

MIKE TROSTEL: President Eisenhower would pace back and forth with his golf spikes on before he went out to the putting green to chip and putt a little bit in the morning.

HORSLEY: Nowadays, that hardwood floor is covered. And that's not the only way modern presidents try to sweep their golfing habits under the rug. While Trump spends hours at his own golf courses, aides rarely reveal who he's playing with or even confirm that he's playing at all. Trump often criticized former President Obama's time on the links, though he recently told a group of lawmakers that's because Obama didn't use the time transactionally.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: Well, I always said about President Obama - it's great to play golf, but play golf with heads of countries and, by the way, people like yourself when you're looking for votes. Don't play with your friends that you play with every week.

HORSLEY: Trump recently bonded with Japan's prime minister over a round of golf, and he tried to sell an Obamacare replacement bill between holes to Kentucky Senator Rand Paul.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RAND PAUL: We had a great day with the president today. We did talk about some health care reform. I think the sides are getting closer and closer together.

HORSLEY: Lyndon Johnson also used the golf course as one more venue for arm-twisting, whereas Obama rarely talked politics during a round - except maybe that one time he played with former House Speaker John Boehner. Historian Trostel says for more than a century, nearly all presidents have spent time on the golf course, each with his own style. George H.W. Bush raced around the course in less than two hours. A round with Bill Clinton could drag on half the day. By far the most prolific presidential golfer was Woodrow Wilson, who played nearly every day but Sunday, some 1,600 rounds in all, including all through World War I.

TROSTEL: In the wintertime, he had the Secret Service agents paint golf balls red so he could practice in the snow.

HORSLEY: For today's presidents, the golf course is loaded with political sand traps - accusations that they're slacking off or isolating themselves in a ritzy country club. But Golf Digest Jaime Diaz suspects there are real payoffs, too - an opportunity to relax and clear one's head and, for Trump, a chance to hit the pause button on the constant self-promotion.

DIAZ: I didn't sense he needed to tell you how good he was when he played golf. I think he was confident about it, and he just let his actions speak for themselves. So in some ways, that might be his best self out on the golf course.

HORSLEY: Plaques at his golf clubs say Trump has even hit a couple of holes in one, and that's not counting his longshot drive for the White House. Scott Horsley, NPR News.

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