Give Donald Trump this much – for a guy closing in on 80, he’s got a nice golf swing.
Decent address. Smooth action. Good follow-through. Everything he has trouble with in real life, he can manage at the tee.
While in the safe space of his own golf course surrounded by like-minded buddies this week, Trump even smiled a couple of times. Not the supercilious smirk he usually deploys in public, but an actual smile with teeth and everything.
Golf seems to be the only thing the former U.S. president enjoys. That and attention. Put golf and attention together and you’ve got Trumpian utopia.
This is how simple it is to buy a former leader of the free world. The whole operation costs less than what the Saudis make from one morning of oil extraction.
This weekend, Trump isn’t just the host of the LIV Tour event at a Trump-branded course in New Jersey. He is its chief barker. He’s showing up at all the events, pressing the flesh and doing interviews. It’s like the guy is campaigning for the Saudis.
How does this self-appointed Captain America, scourge of all foreign scoundrels, reconcile this?
“Well, I’ve know these people for a long time, Saudi Arabia,” Trump said.
All of them? Okay. But what about Sept. 11?
“Nobody’s gotten to the bottom of 9/11, unfortunately.”
Really? Because I was fairly sure they had.
Trump continued on in this vein – talking, but not making much sense – for so long that the reporters on hand got exhausted and gave up. Never try to get a straight answer out of a guy who screws his pants on in the morning.
So far, the Saudi regime’s investment in pro golf is headed in two untenable directions. The costs continue to balloon; the returns continue to flatline. The Saudis have already expanded the tour for next year, including US$400-million in prize money.
Who’s watching this? No one. The second round of the inaugural Portland event drew an average of 54,000 viewers on YouTube, according to Apex Marketing. On terrestrial TV, 54,000 is close to the margin of error.
If the goal was ROI, the Saudis would have been better off junking their furnaces and burning this money. That’s not new news. Everyone knows the Saudis don’t care about making sports a viable business.
What they believe the Saudis are after is credibility. That’s proving a tough get as well. So far, LIV is an expensive punchline. Even the people taking the cash don’t seem to take the competition seriously.
But what if the goal is humiliating Saudi Arabia’s great global frenemy? What if the point of all this is to satirize America’s fading glory? Because if that’s what the Saudis are up to, it’s working.
First, you point out America’s hypocrisy by twisting several pre-eminent citizens to your will. Purchase their complicity, then back away and watch the show.
In that light, the golfers LIV has hired – your Phil Mickelsons, Dustin Johnsons et al – seem alike in their thickness. Get a load of the identical bovine looks whenever they’re asked to explain themselves.
They were raised on ‘tell us what you were thinking with that 5-iron on the 15th’ softballs. When they’re getting hit daily with geopolitics, they look like kids who’ve showed up naked to the exam. Which they sort of have – intellectually and morally unclothed.
Part of this is a bad-guy problem. In our society, bad guys get paid more. If you’re smart and hard-working and charismatic and a cheater, that comes with a bonus. It’s another thing America can’t admit about itself. Left or right, everyone there is willing to make themselves the exception to a rule.
Bad guys are a precious resource in sports. If you’re willing to go on the record acting like an unhinged cretin, there’s money in that. Ask Nick Kyrgios.
But very few people want to be the bad guy. They want bad-guy money, but good-guy treatment.
All the LIV golfers are bad guys now. They couldn’t be more villainous if they wore black hats, grew moustaches and tied damsels to railway tracks.
Rather than embrace their villainy, they’re still trying to pretend they’re good guys doing good work. ‘Family men.’ I’m pretty sure people have families in Yemen, too. If it weren’t so cynical, it would be pathetic.
Having hammered home what America really is – a business – it’s time for Phase 2: Trump.
Trump is the U.S. TV bad guy par excellence. He thinks everyone around him is an idiot, even his friends. He treats all people equally (badly).
He doesn’t have beliefs. He has interests. Anyone willing to purchase an interest – with cash, flattery or the offer of a public soapbox – is welcome. He doesn’t discriminate.
When anyone points out the optics, he starts yelling. What he’s really looking for is a fight. There’s always someone gullible enough to give it to him. If he’s caught out, he’ll lie. If his lies are debunked, he’ll lie harder. There’s no quit in this man. Isn’t that what sports are about?
Some people thought they’d left this cartoonish vision of American leadership behind in 2020. One of the only things still holding the United States together is an across-the-board inability to see a football field beyond their own borders. But even the most navel-gazing, self-involved electorate on the planet got how ridiculous Trump made them look to the rest of the world.
And now he’s back for a one-weekend exclusive engagement. Prepare for shenanigans.
At the very least, the Saudi leadership gets a good laugh out of it. Fist bumping with one president and backslapping with another. How can anyone anywhere take these people seriously any more?
On the outside, maybe this weekend helps push Trump back into the mainstream conversation, post-Jan 6. committee. You know what’s good for global oil prices? Chaos.
Either way, if all it costs you was one morning’s pay, you’d probably say it was worth it, too.