I’ve caddied for many of the greatest golfers in history, packing Tiger Woods’ bag the day he shot sixty-two in an exhibition with Japanese legend Jumbo Ozaki who, despite being almost sixty, fired a hot sixty-seven. Today, I won’t be carrying clubs because our distinguished guests here at Kasumigaseki Country Club – Hideki Matsuyama, fourth ranked pro in the world, President Donald Trump, and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the host – will be riding in carts. My crew and I will walk and replace all divots, rake sand every trap, and repair ball marks on greens.
On the first tee Matsuyama drills a mammoth drive down the middle, at least three hundred thirty yards. Trump follows with a duck hook into the left rough and quickly pulls another ball out of his pocket and says, “Mulligans on the first tee,” and hits his second drive about two-twenty down the left side of the fairway. Abe swings and misses his first shot and screams a bad word I won’t translate. He then slices one about a hundred thirty yards into the right rough. Trump and Abe ride together in their cart, a two-seater with translators in back, and seem very friendly.
I already know Hideki Matsuyama’s going to break par, Trump’s going to score in the low forties for nine holes, all these hotshots have time for, and Abe’ll struggle to break sixty, but I’m more focused on what they’re saying. After the first hole, a birdie for Hideki, a bogey for Trump, not counting the retry, and a triple bogey for Abe, I hear Trump speak and the translator tell the prime minister, “I’d like to get Kim Jong Un on a golf course.”
“Better be careful, if he plays like his father.”
“Kim Jong Il played golf?” Trump asks.
“Just once, at North Korea’s only course. Regulation layout, par seventy-two.”
“What’d he shoot?”
“Thirty-four with five holes in one.”
“Who the hell would believe that?”
On the third hole, after Hideki and Trump nail their drives, Abe duffs his about a hundred yards. At his ball he proclaims, “Watch this. My three wood’s a rocket launcher,” and slices a worm killer into the fairway trap. He wades into the sandy crater, examines a ball buried and only half visible, and grunts as he swings, moving his target less than a foot. On the next attempt he thrashes even harder and nails a hook into the trees on the other side of the fairway. “Get that damn ball,” he orders, and one of my crewmen dashes into the forest. Meanwhile, instead of exiting through the rear of the trap, as dictated by etiquette and common sense, Abe tries to take a giant step from the bunker up to the turf, raises high his right foot, planting it not entirely on the fairway and, as he lifts himself, loses momentum and falls back into the trap. Two secret service agents run toward him but he waves go away and crawls out of the hazard, leaving foot, hand, and body images I have to rake away.
On the sixth green Donald Trump, like Hideki Matsuyama, is putting for birdie. Trump’s ball is about two feet further from the hole and on the same line. After Hideki marks his ball, the president says, “Tell you what, pro. I’ve got five hundred bucks that says I beat you right here.”
“You’re on,” he says.
Trump strikes a bold putt that misses the hole by an inch and skids twelve feet by. “Don’t you guys water these damn greens,” he says, and stomps in Hideki’s line all the way to the cup before moving to mark his ball.
A split second before Hideki strokes his ball, Trump drops his putter and Hideki, flinching inside, I believe, leaves his approach three feet short. Trump, after studying green contours from every angle, drains his putt and, in a celebratory jump, lifts his fleshy frame an inch off the ground. “Don’t swallow the olive, Hideki.”
“Please don’t disturb me this time, Mr. President.”
“What’re you talking about?”
The fourth ranked golfer in the world pulls his putt which hits the left side of the hole, circumnavigates it, and pops out.
“Don’t worry, you can pay me in the clubhouse.”
“This is supposed to be a friendly round of golf, Donald,” Abe says.
“Before China started screwing us in trade, Japan reamed us. Today I’m doing something about the imbalance.”
Prime Minister Abe tells me, “Take my clubs and put them in Hideki’s cart.”
I comply, and President Trump chauffeurs two interpreters the final three holes.
Japan and the United States have critical security concerns and I’m relieved the two leaders shake hands after the round. Hideki Matsuyama stomps off without saying goodbye.
“My five hundred…” hollers The Donald.
Hideki keeps walking.
“Americans just keep getting ripped off.”
“Let’s have lunch,” says Abe. “We’ve got what you asked for.”
“Thank you. I don’t hate Japanese beef but, frankly, it ain’t as good as American prime.”
“We could’ve acquired American beef. It wasn’t necessary for you to bring your own.”
“I’m sure your security’s okay but I can’t risk eating hamburgers not made from a homegrown steer. Besides, I shot it myself, ten automatic rounds between the eyes.”