Sports Gazette

by sports journalism students at St Mary's University, London

“Trump is unembarrassable. He is shameless.” – Rick Reilly talks Commander in Cheat: How Golf Explains Trump

Posted on 11 December 2019 by Thomas Clark

American Rick Reilly has been voted National Sportswriter of the Year a staggering 11 times. 

He is also a member of the National Sportswriters and Sportscasters Hall of Fame. In short, he is an excellent writer.

He was recently nominated for the prestigious William Hill Sports Book of the Year (WHSBOTY), for ‘Commander in Cheat: How Golf Explains Trump’. 

A humorous, terrifying, and unique look at the character of President Trump. 

William Hill Sports Book of The Year Nominee Rick Reilly

I found reviewing Reilly’s book, an extremely enjoyable process, I laughed my way through it and found the hours disappearing as I consumed it in just two sittings.

After the WHSBOTY Awards, Reilly spoke to the Sports Gazette about his work.

Reilly played golf with President Trump years before he set his sights on becoming the most powerful man in the world: “I counted 7 mulligans he took the day I played with him, plus a gimme chip-in, which I’d never heard of in my life.” 

“He almost never putted out, but made sure I did. A bird flew too low. Mulligan. ‘My foot slipped.’ Mulligan. ‘You were talking’ Mulligan.”


It seems Trump very much enjoys home advantage as well: “It’s nearly impossible to beat the man at his own course with his own caddies, especially when the caddies are 100 yards ahead of you, fluffing up his ball and removing it from all menaces. Trump has to win at all costs, even if he has to lie to your face to do it, even when you know he’s lying. Even when you saw him cheat.”

When asked for his opinion on if any part of Trump is embarrassed about his blatant cheating: “No, Trump is unembarrassable. He is shameless.” 

On Trump’s competitiveness: “There is something that’s rerouted in his brain that requires, insists, he has to come out the winner, the guy on top, the guy who looks the best in the end. 

That’s why when he filed for one of the largest bankruptcies in New Jersey history with his failed casinos, leaving thousands of cabinet makers, carpet installers, painters, etc., unpaid, he said, ‘I think this is a win-win for everybody.’” 

Credit: Commander In Cheat by Rick Reilly

It is comparisons like these that make the book terrifying as well as amusing. 

Reilly added: “There are so many examples of this in his presidency, times when he’s been caught flat-out cheating or lying or failing and he makes up some ridiculous excuse, the hurricane map, the inauguration crowd size, lying about predicting Brexit. It never ends. And on the rare times people actually ask him ‘why are you lying’? his answer is, ‘oh, no this is what i was told.’ 

“It’s never on him. So when golfers call him on his cheating, when they’ve seen him do it,  he always says the same thing, ‘ah, the guys I play with, you have to cheat just to keep it even.’ In other words, the Lance Armstrong defence.”

From front to back, the reader is left in no doubt that Reilly is disgusted by Trump as both a man and a President. He does, however, admit that the President is ‘fabulous golfing company’. 

When pulled up on this Reilly said: “For us in sports [journalism], Trump was a fun, full-of-it fabulist who lived this crazy billionaire’s life with his giant name splattered on jets and buildings and big iron golf gates. So, as a writer, he was amazingly fun copy. 

“You take the red-eye to get to interview a guy like that. But when a big gasbag bullshit artist suddenly becomes the most powerful man in the world, it’s not funny anymore. When lives are being ruined, and the degradation of a planet is being ignored, and allies are laughing at us over the buffoon we somehow elected, it starts to feel like you’re living a nightmare.”

Trump is not the only President Reilly has partnered with, he once enjoyed a round with President Clinton. As we all know, like Trump, he was a cheat, but also at golf as well.

However, in his book Reilly claimed that “Clinton’s methods were less diabolical and more goofy.” This was something I found odd when reading. 

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Golf is a sport that is defined by honour, where players call penalties on themselves when nobody else has noticed. Often costing themselves championships, or causing cuts to be missed in majors. Surely cheating is cheating?

“I played with Clinton when he was President, I was fully aware of his cheating. But Clinton is the guy who goes into the bank to steal the pen. Trump goes to steal the vault.” 

In other words, different levels of cheating. I am still not convinced about this, but as I am yet to receive my golfing invite to play with either Clinton or Trump I will take Reilly’s word for it.

Despite Reilly’s best efforts, Trump was not willing to contribute to the book. 

Reilly still has his 200 questions for the President, maybe after the next election he might have some more time on his hands and can answer a few.

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Reilly, however, does have his own opinions on how Trump might have reviewed the book if he and I swapped roles for the day: “Rick Reilly? I killed him on the golf course! The guy was terrible! Swung like a girl! 

“A very dishonest man. Everybody will tell you that. His book is fake news, folks. A hoax. Totally made up.” 

It seems Reilly has thought about this in detail as he already has his own reply ready: “I would tweet, ‘ok, who read it to you?’” 

Safe to say Reilly probably won’t get the chance to interview the President any time soon.


Commander In Cheat by Rick Reilly, published by Headline is out now, £14.99.