The 78th Kitchen Aid Senior PGA Championship is being held at Trump International Golf Club just outside Washington, D.C., this weekend. About two years ago I had lunch with then Presidential candidate Donald Trump at the venue, where he had given a tour of the changes he had made to the course in advance of the event. Now he has been bumped upstairs, and Eric Trump has taken over the mantle as head of the family’s extensive golf operations.
I had a chance to speak with Eric to get his thoughts on the game, the business of golf, coping with winds of politics and having The Donald as a father.
Michael Williams: So what do we call you now, Head of the Trump Organization?
Eric Trump: Well, we aren’t really “title” people, but I guess that’s the right name. We’ve had a wild ride the past couple of years, specifically this year. It’s been amazing and this tournament is a great culmination of everything that we’ve aimed for in the sport of golf. We have the U.S. Women’s Open coming up at Bedminster in about two months; we have the 2022 PGA Championship also at Bedminster, and we’re excited about that. And there are many other tournaments that we’re adding. Listen, we’re doing awesome as a family, we’re doing awesome as a company, and we’re just so blessed in life.
The 2017 Kitchen Aid Senior PGA Championship is being held at Trump National just outside Washington, D.C. This was an existing club. What is the story for how you found and acquired it?
Well, I actually went to school not to far from here at Georgetown University. I love the area here, and in 2009 the course came up for sale. It was brought to us, and I came down here to look at it. I remember calling my father from the course and saying, “Listen, this is something that we have to do, this place is incredible.” And the potential…you know, that is something that we’ve always done well as a company is recognize potential. I told my Dad that the potential here was unbelievable. So we ended up buying the course and we went to work the two of us, me and my father. It’s a very sentimental thing for me, because we spent a lot of time together working on it. We went through every inch of this property together. So in a certain way, this is a great testament to him and his vision. We rebuilt the course and made it into something amazing. It’s right on the Potomac River, and with the views of the falls and the river and the scenery…it’s just an unbelievably special place. It can never be duplicated ever again. I was on the course today with Colin Montgomery in the Pro-Am…
You just played in the pro-am? Who did you play with and how did you do?
I played with Colin Montgomerie and (defending Senior PGA Champion) Rocco Mediate. We did well, we came in second. But I want to audit the winner because I think they cheated! [Laughs] Just kidding. We played great…but when you hear Rocco Mediate, Colin, John Daly and all these other guys just raving about the course and the conditioning, it validates everything that we strived for each and every day to achieve, so I couldn’t be more proud.
What was the process for the Senior PGA Championship coming to Trump National, and was there any point over that “wild ride” of the last two years when there was doubt that the tournament would stay here?
I don’t think you “seek” tournaments, I think they seek you. They seek the best properties, and if you’re not the best you’re not going to get the tournaments, especially a tournament as prestigious as this one, or the Women’s Open or the PGA Championship. They seek you if you have the best course and the best location, and I think that’s what we have. This is 800 acres on the Potomac River right outside Washington, D.C. It’s an amazing facility with views like none other…an unbelievable course. Long, amazing, I mean, the putting surfaces are incredible, and it’s going to be an incredible test of golf. The USGA, the PGA, the R&A, the European Tour and all of the big agencies in golf, they want the best. And the players want the best. I care about one thing, and that is that this be the best championship that the seniors have ever had. Our whole team strives to achieve that, and I strive to achieve that every day. That’s who we are as a company, and I know that they are going to have an amazing experience. And that’s what its all about at the end of the day.
What is the current portfolio and where are the new acquisitions coming?
We have 19 properties around the world. We just opened our first course in the Middle East, in Dubai, designed by Gil Hanse. It’s an amazing, amazing course…second to none in that part of the world, and we’re building a second course there with Tiger Woods in 2018. We have two courses in Indonesia, one in Bali (Phil Mickelson), and one in Jakarta (Ernie Els), and both of those will be amazing. As you probably know, we bought Turnberry two years ago and that course has been on the cover of every golf magazine and has won every accolade, and we’re so proud of that. And of course there’s Doral, and you know what we’ve done with that property. There’s Ferry Point in New York City, which has been such an amazing success for the city of New York and for us as a company. People really love that course. And we have our course just outside L.A, overlooking Catalina Island right on the Pacific Ocean, it’s so spectacular…I could go on and on. We’ve really done something great in this world; we care about golf, we love the game. We’ve dumped our heart and soul into it, and we’ve really built something that’s awesome.
Did you grow up playing golf? Did you get your knowledge and passion for golf “from the ground up?”
I did play, yes. I developed my love of the game certainly from the ground up playing, but also from the business of the game. I spent a long time and my father spent a lot longer time building vertical towers, and right around 2000 we got into the game of golf. I came into the business in about 2005; we had three golf courses, and from that point on we went on kind of a tear, going from three to 19 courses today. I did every single one of those courses with my father; built them, bought them, developed them…to build the portfolio into what it is today. So my love of golf comes from all that, from playing, and quite frankly because I get to spend so much time with [my father] on these courses. There’s no one who loves the game of golf more [than him]; he loves everything about it. It’s special to me beyond playing. It’s the game I care about, a game that creates so much good. You know, more charity dollars are generated by golf than all the other major sports combined. More people have gotten jobs because of golf, friendships are created, deals are done because of golf. It’s an amazing sport.
Does having a father in the White House make your job harder or easier? Is it difficult to isolate yourself from the politics?
It’s funny. There’s certainly a lot of noise. No matter who or when you’re talking about, politics creates a lot of noise. And Washington is a tough town. Politicians aren’t always the greatest people, and I think that’s one of the reasons I choose to stay on this side of the aisle instead of the other. At the same time, what my father accomplished, what we accomplished as a family, is something very special. I’ll never forget the last two years; he did some thing no one said he would do or could do. Virtually everybody got it wrong and he did what he does best; he worked and he fought and he proved a lot of people wrong. Somebody at the end of the campaign right before the election came up to me and said, “Listen, I think that this election is going to be celebrity versus family and believe me, the American people are going to choose family.” So I think that if there’s one thing that came out of this is that we showed that as a family you fight together, you win together. I think everybody saw the bond that we have, which started at a young age but really came together in the business and everything else that we’ve done. We love each other; my father is an amazing man and he has a heart of gold and I’m truly proud of him. So, does politics make it more difficult? Absolutely. But as a business, we’re a non-political company. We do not get involved in politics; we can’t get involved in politics because we have people checking into hotels every night and they’re Democrats and Republicans. But it has certainly been fun and interesting, and I’m incredibly proud of him.
Who is the best player in the family?
My father is. He’s a great, great putter and he’s very consistent. He’s a legitimate 2-3 handicap. He’s a real player, and he surprises a lot of people. Younger people challenge him, and then he’ll go out and not miss a putt. If you ever play with him, leave your wallet in the car!
Will we see the President on the weekend at Trump National?
It’s totally his decision. I know that he’d love to, but it’s his call you make. I wonder how he’s going to feel after this trip. I’ve been watching him on TV every day and I’m kind of living life vicariously through the news channels. (NOTE: POTUS came on a TV screen right behind us as we were talking). I took a look at his schedule: Saudi Arabia, Israel and then going to the NATO meetings. He is just working himself so incredibly hard, but he’d love to be here. He’s friends with so many of the players; he loves the game and he loves this property. Let’s see how he feels.
I once predicted that Donald Trump would be the next PGA Tour Commissioner, but as it turns out he took a different job. You have a pretty good job, but if you were to change what would it be?
There’s so many things that are interesting, but I love building. I think my father would choose building over anything else, and I share that DNA with him. He loves building; I love building. He loves taking a building and watching it materialize on the skyline; I like taking a golf course and making it spectacular. I love taking a Turnberry and renovating it to what many consider to be the best course and hotel anywhere in the world. This is what gets us up in the morning and what we fall asleep doing at night. I think I found my calling; I think I found my passion. When you combine golf with real estate and construction to make things beautiful and vitalized and add an entrepreneurial sprit, then you’ve got a great combination. I think we’ve proven that can be very successful, and I think that’s why we’re sitting where we are today with all of these championships at beautiful courses that are thriving, and that’s a great thing for the game of golf. Golf needs more of that, and fortunately I think we’ve gotten a lot of credit for it because we put our whole heart and should into this industry and these assets. It’s all materializing, and events on the [the Senior PGA Championship] are the proof.
Fantasy Preview: 2018 Fort Worth Invitational
Under a new name, but a very familiar setting, the Fort Worth Championship gets underway this week. Colonial Country Club will host, and it’s an event that has attracted some big names to compete in the final stop of the Texas swing. The top two ranked Europeans, Jon Rahm and Justin Rose are in the field, as are Americans Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler.
Colonial is a tricky course with narrow tree-lined fairways that are imperative to hit. Distance off the tee holds no real advantage this week with approach play being pivotal. Approach shots will be made more difficult this week than usual by the greens at Colonial, which are some of the smallest on the PGA Tour. Last year, Kevin Kisner held off Spieth, Rahm, and O’Hair to post 10-under par and take the title by a one-stroke margin.
Selected Tournament Odds (via Bet365)
- Jordan Spieth 9/1
- Jon Rahm 14/1
- Justin Rose 18/1
- Webb Simpson 18/1
- Rickie Fowler 20/1
- Jimmy Walker 28/1
- Adam Scott 28/1
Last week, Jordan Spieth (9/1, DK Price $11,700) went off at the Byron Nelson as the prohibitive 5/1 favorite. Every man and his dog seemed to be on him, and after Spieth spoke to the media about how he felt he had a distinct advantage at a course where he is a member, it was really no surprise. Comments like this from Spieth at the Byron Nelson are not new. When the event was held at TPC Four Seasons, Spieth often made similar comments. The result? He flopped, just as he did last week at Trinity Forest. Spieth’s best finish at the Byron Nelson in his career is T-16. The reason for this, I believe, is the expectations he has put on himself at this event for years.
Switch to Colonial, and the difference is considerable. Spieth’s worst finish here is T-14. In his last three visits, he has finished second, first and second. While Spieth may believe that he should win the Byron Nelson whenever he tees it up there, the evidence suggests that his love affair is with Colonial. The statistic that truly emphasizes his prowess at Colonial, though, is his Strokes Gained-Total at the course. Since 2013, Spieth has a ridiculous Strokes Gained-Total of more than +55 on the course, almost double that of Kisner in second place.
Spieth’s long game all year has been consistently good. Over his previous 24 rounds, he ranks first in this field for Strokes Gained-Tee to Green, second for Ball Striking, and first for Strokes Gained-Total. On the other hand, his putting is awful at the moment. He had yet another dreadful performance on the greens at Trinity Forest, but he was also putting nowhere near his best coming into Colonial last year. In 2017, he had dropped strokes on the greens in his previous two events, missing the cut on both occasions, yet he finished seventh in Strokes Gained-Putting at Colonial on his way to a runner-up finish. His record is too good at this course for Spieth to be 9/1, and he can ignite his 2018 season in his home state this week.
Emiliano Grillo’s (50/1, DK Price $8,600) only missed cut in 2018 came at the team event in New Orleans, and he arrives this week at a course ideally suited to the Argentine’s game. Grillo performed well here in 2017, recording a top-25 finish. His form in 2018 leads me to believe he can improve on that this year.
As a second-shot golf course, Colonial sets up beautifully for the strengths of Grillo’s game. Over his previous 12 rounds, Grillo ranks first in Strokes Gained-Approaching the Green, second in Ball Striking, third in Strokes Gained-Tee to Green and eighth in Strokes Gained-Total. The Argentine also plays short golf courses excellently. Over his last 50 rounds, Grillo is ranked ninth for Strokes Gained-Total on courses measuring 7,200 yards or less. Colonial is right on that number, and Grillo looks undervalued to continue his consistent season on a course that suits him very well.
Another man enjoying a consistent 2018 is Adam Hadwin (66/1, DK Price $7,600), who has yet to miss a cut this season. The Canadian is enjoying an excellent run of form with five top-25 finishes from his last six stroke-play events. Hadwin is another man whose game is tailor made for Colonial. His accurate iron play and solid putting is a recipe for success here, and he has proven that by making the cut in all three of his starts at Colonial, finishing in the top-25 twice.
Hadwin is coming off his worst performance of 2018 at The Players Championship, but it was an anomaly you can chalk up to a rare poor week around the greens (he was seventh-to-last in Strokes Gained-Around the Green for the week). In his previous seven starts, Hadwin had a positive strokes gained total in this category each time. Over his last 24 rounds, Hadwin ranks seventh in Strokes Gained-Approaching the Green, 15th in Ball Striking, and ninth in Strokes Gained-Putting. He looks to have an excellent opportunity to improve on his solid record at Colonial this week.
Finally, as far as outsiders go, I like the look of Sean O’Hair (175/1, DK Price $7,100) at what is a juicy price. One of last year’s runners-up, his number is far too big this week. He has had some excellent performances so far in 2018. In fact, in his previous six starts, O’Hair has made five cuts and has notched three top-15 finishes, including his runner-up finish at the Valero Texas Open. The Texan has made three of his last four cuts at Colonial, and he looks to be an excellent pick on DraftKings at a low price.
- Jordan Spieth 9/1, DK Price $11,700
- Emiliano Grillo 50/1, DK Price $8.600
- Adam Hadwin 66/1, DK Price $7,600
- Sean O’Hair 175/1, DK Price $7,100
Pick three golfers to build the ultimate scramble team. Who you got?
It’s officially scramble season. Whether it’s a corporate outing or charity event, surely you’ve either been invited to play in or have already played in a scramble this year.
If you don’t know the rules of the scramble format, here’s how it works: All four golfers hit their drives, then the group elects the best shot. From there, all four golfers hit the shot, and the best of the bunch is chosen once again. The hole continues in this fashion until the golf ball is holed.
The best scramble players are those who hit the ball really far and/or stick it close with the irons and/or hole a lot of putts. The point is to make as many birdies and eagles as possible.
With this in mind, inside GolfWRX Headquarters, we got to discussing who would be on the ultimate scramble team. Obviously, Tiger-Jack-Daly was brought up immediately, so there needed to be a caveat to make it more challenging.
Thus, the following hypothetical was born. We assigned each golfer below a dollar value, and said that we had to build a three player scramble team (plus yourself) for $8 or less.
Here are the answers from the content team here at GolfWRX:
Tiger Woods ($5): This is obvious. From a scramble standpoint, Tiger gives you everything you want: Long, accurate, and strategic off the tee (in his prime). Woods, sets the team up for optimal approach shots (he was pretty good at those too)…and of course, arguably the greatest pressure putter of all time.
David Duval ($2): I’m thinking of Double D’s machine-like approach play in his prime. Tour-leader in GIR in 1999, and 26th in driving accuracy that year, Duval ought to stick second shots when TW doesn’t and is an asset off the tee.
Corey Pavin ($1): A superb putter and dogged competitor, Pavin’s a great value at $1. Ryder Cup moxy. Plus, he’ll always give you a ball in the fairway off the tee (albeit a short one), much needed in scramble play.
Rory McIlroy ($4): I am willing to bet their are only a handful of par 5’s in the world that he can’t hit in in two shots. You need a guy who can flat out overpower a course and put you in short iron situations on every hole. His iron play is a thing of beauty, with a high trajectory that makes going after any sucker pin a possibility.
Jordan Spieth ($3): Was there a guy who putted from mid-range better than him just a couple years ago? If there was, he isn’t on this list. Scrambles need a guy who can drain everything on the green and after watching 3 putts to get the read, he won’t miss. His solid wedge game will also help us get up and down from those short yardages on the Par 4’s.
Corey Pavin ($1): Fear the STACHE!! The former Ryder Cup captain will keep the whole team playing their best and motivated to make birdies and eagles. If we have 228 yards to the flag we know he is pulling that 4 wood out and giving us a short putt for birdie. He will of course be our safety net, hitting the “safe shot,” allowing the rest of us to get aggressive!
Dustin Johnson ($4) – Bombmeister!!!
Lee Trevino ($2) — Funny as hell (and I speak Mexican).
Sergio Garcia ($1) – The greatest iron player (I speak Spanish, too).
Dustin Johnson ($4)
Seve Ballesteros ($2)
Lee Trevino ($2)
DJ is longer than I-10, Seve can dig it out of the woods, and Trevino can shape it into any pin.
Dustin Johnson ($4)
Jordan Spieth ($2)
Anthony Kim ($1)
Are all the old timers gonna be mad at me for taking young guys? Doesn’t matter. DJ has to be the best driver ever, as long as he’s hitting that butter cut. With Jordan, it’s hard to tell whether he’s better with his irons or with his putter — remember, we’re talking Jordan in his prime, not the guy who misses putts from 8 inches. Then, Anthony Kim has to be on the team in case the alcohol gets going since, you know, it’s a scramble; remember when he was out all night (allegedly) before the Presidents Cup and still won his match? I need that kind of ability on my squad. Plus AK will get us in the fairway when me, DJ and Spieth each inevitably hit it sideways.
Tiger Woods ($5)
Seve Ballesteros ($2)
Corey Pavin ($1)
Tiger is a no-brainer. Seve is maybe the most creative player ever and would enjoy playing HORSE with Tiger. Pavin is the only $1 player who wouldn’t be scared stiff to be paired with the first two.
Tiger Woods ($5): His Mind/Overall Game
Seve Ballesteros ($2): His creativity/fire in a team format/inside 100
Anthony Kim ($1): Team swagger/he’s streaky/will hit fairways under the gun.
A scramble requires 3 things: Power, Putting and Momentum. These 3 guys as a team complete the whole package. Tiger is a one man scramble team but will get himself in trouble, which is where Seve comes in. In the case where the momentum is going forward like a freight train, nobody rattles a cage into the zone better than AK. It’s the perfect team and the team I’d want out there if my life was on the line. I’d trust my kids with this team.
Who would you pick on your team, and why? See what GolfWRX Members are saying in the forums.
Is equipment really to blame for the distance problem in golf?
It’s 2018, we’re more than a quarter of the way through Major Season, and there are 58 players on the PGA Tour averaging over 300 yards off the tee. Trey Mullinax is leading the PGA Tour through the Wells Fargo Championship with an average driving distance of 320 yards. Much discussion has been had about the difficulty such averages are placing on the golf courses across the country. Sewn into the fabric of the distance discussion are suggestions by current and past giants of the game to roll back the golf ball.
In a single segment on an episode of Live From The Masters, Brandel Chamblee said, “There’s a correlation from when the ProV1 was introduced and driving distance spiked,” followed a few minutes later by this: “The equipment isn’t the source of the distance, it’s the athletes.”
So which is it? Does it have to be one or the other? Is there a problem at all?
Several things of interest happened on the PGA Tour in the early 2000s, most of which were entirely driven by the single most dominant athlete of the last 30. First, we saw Tiger Woods win four consecutive majors, the first and only person to do that in the modern era of what are now considered the majors. Second, that same athlete drew enough eyeballs so that Tim Finchem could exponentially increase the prize money golfers were playing for each week. Third, but often the most overlooked, Tiger Woods ushered in fitness to the mainstream of golf. Tiger took what Gary Player and Greg Norman had preached their whole careers and amped it up like he did everything else.
In 1980, Dan Pohl was the longest player on the PGA Tour. He averaged 274 yards off the tee with a 5-foot, 11-inch and 175-pound frame. By 2000, the average distance for all players on the PGA Tour was 274 yards. The leader of the pack that year was John Daly, who was the only man to average over 300 yards. Tiger Woods came in right behind him at 298 yards.
Analysis of the driving distance stats on the PGA Tour since 1980 show a few important statistics: Over the last 38 seasons, the average driving distance for all players on the PGA Tour has increased an average of 1.1 yards per year. When depicted on a graph, it looks like this:
The disparity between the shortest and the longest hitter on the PGA Tour has increased 0.53 yards per year, which means the longest hitters are increasing the gap between themselves and the shortest hitters. The disparity chart fluctuates considerably more than the average distance chart, but the increase from 1980 to 2018 is staggering.
In 1980, there was 35.6 yards between Dan Pohl (longest) and Michael Brannan (shortest – driving distance 238.7 yards). In 2018, the difference between Trey Mullinax and Ken Duke is 55.9 yards. Another point to consider is that in 1980, Michael Brannan was 25. Ken Duke is currently 49 years of age.
The question has not been, “Is there a distance problem?” It’s been, “How do we solve the distance problem?” The data is clear that distance has increased — not so much at an exponential rate, but at a consistent clip over the last four decades — and also that equipment is only a fraction of the equation.
Jack Nicklaus was over-the-hill in 1986 when he won the Masters. It came completely out of nowhere. Players in past decades didn’t hit their prime until they were in their early thirties, and then it was gone by their early forties. Today, it’s routine for players to continue playing until they are over 50 on the PGA Tour. In 2017, Steve Stricker joined the PGA Tour Champions. In 2016, he averaged 278 yards off the tee on the PGA Tour. With that number, he’d have topped the charts in 1980 by nearly four yards.
If equipment was the only reason distance had increased, then the disparity between the longest and shortest hitters would have decreased. If it was all equipment, then Ken Duke should be averaging something more like 280 yards instead of 266.
There are several things at play. First and foremost, golfers are simply better athletes these days. That’s not to say that the players of yesteryear weren’t good athletes, but the best athletes on the planet forty years ago didn’t play golf; they played football and basketball and baseball. Equipment definitely helped those super athletes hit the ball straighter, but the power is organic.
The other thing to consider is that the total tournament purse for the 1980 Tour Championship was $440,000 ($1,370,833 in today’s dollars). The winner’s share for an opposite-field event, such as the one played in Puerto Rico this year, is over $1 million. Along with the fitness era, Tiger Woods ushered in the era of huge paydays for golfers. This year, the U.S. Open prize purse will be $12 milion with $2.1 million of that going to the winner. If you’re a super athlete with the skills to be a golfer, it makes good business sense to go into golf these days. That wasn’t the case four decades ago.
Sure, equipment has something to do with the distance boom, but the core of the increase is about the athletes themselves. Let’s start giving credit where credit is due.
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