As far as presidents go, Donald Trump swings a golf club pretty well, for a big man in his 70s. If not exactly dynamite off the tee, he is at least solid. And while his technique around the greens is quirky, he somehow makes it work.
According to our esteemed experts, the US Commander-in-Chief matches up well against his predecessors, Barack Obama, George W Bush and John F. Kennedy.
Critics might say he ought to, given how much he plays – the trumpgolfcount.com website projects that Trump will make 342 visits to golf clubs during this four-year presidency.
Proponents might say it proves that practice makes perfect, or at least almost perfect.
“Trump looks like he’s played a lot of rounds, because he seems to know what he’s doing,” says Clive Tucker, coach at Mannings Heath Golf Club in West Sussex, who oversaw David Howell’s rise through the world rankings and has also worked with former US Open champion Graeme McDowell, Open champion Darren Clarke and former world No. 1 Lee Westwood.
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“He’s got a bit of a flat back-swing, but that might be deliberate. History is littered with players who had slightly ‘off’ back-swings, but they managed to re-route it and get the club in a good place coming down.
“That’s what Trump manages to do, so while he might hit the odd ball left, he’ll usually hit it well.”
Gary Smith, who has worked with former Masters champion Danny Willett and former US Open and reigning Olympic champion Justin Rose, agrees that Trump has a sound, solid action on the way down, and manages to make light of an unconventional takeaway and an abrupt end to his follow-through.
“His aim is good, he’s got great alignment and looks reasonably flexible,” says Smith. “It also looks like his arms are hanging great, so one would assume his grip is fine. For someone of his age and size, it’s a mighty good action.
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“He does little wrong, although he does start his back-swing with his hips, which is not ideal – you should start with the shoulders, and the hips will follow. Normally if you start with your hips, you lose height and posture, and the whole swing falls apart.
“His doesn’t, he keeps good balance and head height. He’s got a repetitive swing, because it’s short and snappy. Although that means he loses a bit of distance, it also means he’s more consistent.
Smith observes that another facet of Trump’s swing that the US president could try and improve on is his finish.
“There’s one theme running through all the presidents’ swings, which is that none of them complete the finish.
“Probably, once the ball’s been hit, they just want to move on to the next shot. They don’t want to waste time with a showy finish when the ball has already gone, they’re very busy men.”
Tucker and Smith analyzed Trump’s opening shot at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am in 2012, when he sauntered onto the tee and made a couple of cursory practice swings before drilling a drive down the middle, to the delight of the gallery.
Even for a man who claims a handicap of 2.8, that takes cojones. And it is probably fair to say that Trump’s golf game benefits from the kind of self-confidence which is sorely lacking in your average golfer, whose knees start knocking at the sight of a man and his dog looking on from a distance.
Who can forget George W Bush, pulling up in a golf cart and launching into a diatribe against “terrorist killers” before proclaiming to the assembled press, “Now watch this drive”? Sure enough, it went straight down the middle.
“It looked like Trump enjoyed being watched, he wasn’t bothered by it,” says Tucker of the former “Apprentice” star. “He had a swagger about him, which is what all good players have.
“Bush is also quite clearly a competent and confident golfer. His swing is compact, rhythmical and very stable. In fact, I’d say he was the best (although, it should be noted, most of Bush’s footage was from when he was in his 50s).”
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Smith, however, believes Trump has the edge on Bush, who claims a more realistic handicap of 10, but both agree that Obama, whose unofficial handicap is said to be in the high teens, is a better golfer than some people give him credit for.
“I’ve heard people say Obama’s got a bloody awful swing, but it really isn’t,” says Smith.
“He has really good posture, but fairly poor rotation. His arms do most of the work, and that’s where it goes wrong. For him to get better, he’d have to do something like Pilates.
“Flexibility adds range of movement, therefore length of swing, therefore club-head speed, therefore distance.”
“Obama’s swing is a bit agricultural at times and slightly schizophrenic,” adds Tucker. “His practice swings looked really good, and he looked decent with the driver, very stable and compact. But then I saw him hit some iron shots, and he was all over the place.
“At his best, he holds his height and shape and balance very well. At his worst, his head is moving up and down and he’s collapsing, which is why he can’t strike the ball consistently.
“Obama is either going to have a good day or a bad day, and not much in between.”
And what of JFK?
Well, if it wasn’t for osteoporosis of the lower back, which reportedly caused him such severe pain he had difficulty putting his shoes and socks on, he could have been the finest presidential golfer of them all.
“JFK competed for the Harvard golf team, so was obviously a good player,” says Tucker. “His movement and overall rhythm was very nice. He was long, smooth and very athletic. But if one bit of your body can’t do something, another bit will have to take the strain.
“Your lower back takes three, four, five times your body weight during a golf swing, so his knees were having to move around to help support his mid-section.
“That’s why he has that rubbery look, but it also shows how much natural coordination the guy must have had.”
All in all, none of the presidents were, or are, likely to embarrass themselves on the course. Although maybe don’t mention Trump’s work around the greens, if you ever happen to bump into him, over at your local municipal.
“Trump’s short game is very dodgy,” says Smith. “His posture’s not great, he stands very low, and he dips massively into impact, pecking at the ball, so that his arms collapse. That’s a pretty lethal way of chipping and pitching.”
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But if you own the course, are paying for everybody’s round and buying the drinks, who’s counting anyway?