President Trump does not usually forsake an opportunity to take aim at a critic, but when it came to Rory McIlroy playing in a charity skins game on Sunday, the leader of the free world decided to take the political equivalent of a lay-up.
Trump’s contribution to the first male golf on live TV in more than two months had the potential to inject a huge dose of controversy to the much-heralded match that saw McIlroy win the bizarre nearest-the-pin finale on the first extra hole that was worth $1.1m and allowed him and Dustin Johnson to beat Rickie Fowler and the big-hitting Matthew Wolff at Seminole Golf Club in Florida.
However, Trump did not accept the challenge when Mike Tirico, the NBC presenter, teed him up in the phone call to the White House, just as the competitors were on the ninth.
Tirico dared to reference McIlroy remarks earlier in the week to the McKellar Golf podcast - in which the world No 1 said he probably would never play golf with Trump again and accused him of “terrible things” and “not acting as a leader should” during the coronavirus crisis - but Trump’s response was uncharacteristically non-confrontational and vague.
“A lot of them [the professionals] like my politics very much and some don’t, I guess,” Trump said. “The ones that don’t, I don’t get to see as much.”
Perhaps Trump was wise not to take on McIlroy in a popularity contest on a golf broadcast or maybe he has read Commander in Cheat, the recent Rick Reilly book in which Tirico himself features in a round that he played with Trump in a “friendly” match.
During that encounter, Reilly reported Tirico hitting what looked a great second into a par-five, but when he got there, his ball was somehow in a bunker 20 yards left of the pin. “Lousy break,” Trump told Tirico.
Afterwards, Trump’s caddie allegedly told Tirico that his approach had actually finished within 10 feet of the hole. “Trump threw it into the bunker,” the bagman informed the startled TV man. “I watched him do it.”
Of course, Trump has no shame and after ducking the McIIroy query on Sunday night, he went on to promise golf fans they would be allowed back on the PGA Tour “sooner than you think” and vowed to rebuild “the greatest economy in the world”.
It might have seemed somehow appropriate with so much money being contributed for the quartet to contest. Except this was for the Covid-19 relief efforts and politics should not have been allowed. It was one of many mistakes made by the producers of the rather sterile “TaylorMade Driving Relief”, one of which was expressed by Melissa Reid, rather more eloquently than anything Trump managed.
Reid, the Solheim Cup star and one of England’s more high-profile female pros, wondered why only males were on display at the revered beachside layout in Palm Beach County. “Yet again today we show the disparity between men’s and women’s golf,” Reid tweeted. “Today’s charity event should showcase “golf” not just men’s golf. What an opportunity golf has let slip to represent equality.”
All four of the participants are sponsored by TaylorMade, but the equipment-makes also endorses women such as Charley Hull and Sierra Brooks. In truth, the action could have done with something radically different as despite the players wearing shorts, carrying their own bags and with more than $5 million going to charity, it was a largely flat affair.
Wollf livened it up, outdriving McIlroy and Johnson on both of the long-drive holes and he is clearly a superstar of the very near future. Indeed, Trump might be on the phone for a round with his young countryman in the very near future.