I said, "Wasn't it too hard? Not for you, but for the likes of me?" I'm a 90-shooter, usually.
Mike was dismissive. "What does 'too hard' mean? Is Winged Foot too hard? You thought it was too hard because you hit it all over the place. You're playing with Donald Trump; you felt as if you embarrassed yourself with the way you were playing; and now you want to say it's too hard." That sounded painfully accurate. I asked Mike, "Did it feel cramped to you?"
"Cramped?" Mike asked. "Is Merion cramped? Merion's on a smaller piece of land than this course. You would never call Merion cramped, would you? No, I didn't find it cramped."
"What'd you think of Trump?" (I had found aspirin in the locker room as soon as our round had ended.)
"I thought he was magical," Mike said. "He's so positive about himself and everything he's doing, it's unbelievable. He's intoxicating. You listen to him and you feel as if anything's possible. I could listen to him all day."
We had played the same course, with the same man, and our reactions couldn't have been more different. There's something about Trump I don't know. In any event, the story had changed after a day.
The next day, on a summery Saturday last September . . .
Mike and I went to Bedminster, N.J., to play Trump's course there. The New Jersey course was designed by Jim Fazio's better-known younger brother, Tom, and is called Trump National Golf Club, Bedminster. Trump's name is on all his courses. Some people find that tacky, but Trump's German name has served him well. Not only is it solid-sounding, because of the four heavy consonants in it, but his surname is also a meaty verb in business and bridge. She trumped him. If Trump's last name were Finkelstein or O'Shaughnessy, excellent names both, it'd be a tougher fit for a budding golf empire. Trump's gone to town with his name. At Bedminster, inside the club's baronial clubhouse, there were bottles of water labeled trump ice. You could buy Trump cologne and Trump ties and Trump books, and the bar served Trump vodka. You could pick up a copy of Trump magazine. Trump, Trump, Trump. It was actually funny.
At Westchester, Trump had said he wouldn't be joining Mike and me for our afternoon game because he was playing in the morning. But by the time Mike and I were on the 1st tee, we were a fivesome again: Mike and me; Cooper, Trump's golf guy; Jim Herman, a young pro from Bedminster; and the bossman himself, 60 and ready to go another 18.
Trump picked right up where he had left off the previous day. This time I adopted Mike's approach to Trump. The way to experience Trump is not to fight him but to turn yourself over to him. No, I had never before seen a driving range that had real fairways and bunkers and greens, simulating actual holes, mowed into the landing area. Yes, the condition of the course was as spectacular as anything I had ever seen, anywhere. Yes, the course would strike fear into the greatest golfers in the world.
Trump had made the teams and set the stakes. He can't play golf without some action. He said, "I'm playing with this big Wall Street banker, worth hundreds of millions. He says, 'Let's play for a dollar.' And I say, 'One dollar? How 'bout we play for 10 bucks?' He won't do it. He'll only play for a dollar." At Bedminster we were playing for $10, and Trump's golf was very good, especially when his ball counted. He has a lunging, looping, repeating swing, and he drove it pretty long and consistently in play and putted well. I could see him playing legit and breaking 80. He talked before and after every shot.