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A Quick Nine: A Q&A with Eric Trump

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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.

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Williams has a reputation as a savvy broadcaster, and as an incisive interviewer and writer. An avid golfer himself, Williams has covered the game of golf and the golf lifestyle including courses, restaurants, travel and sports marketing for publications all over the world. He is currently working with a wide range of outlets in traditional and electronic media, and has produced and hosted “Sticks and Stones” on the Fox Radio network, a critically acclaimed show that combined coverage of the golf world with interviews of the Washington power elite. His work on Newschannel8’s “Capital Golf Weekly” and “SportsTalk” have established him as one of the area’s most trusted sources for golf reporting. Williams has also made numerous radio appearances on “The John Thompson Show,” and a host of other local productions. He is a sought-after speaker and panel moderator, he has recently launched a new partnership with The O Team to create original golf-themed programming and events. Williams is a member of the United States Golf Association and the Golf Writers Association of America.

Opinion & Analysis

GolfWRX Book Review: Phil by Alan Shipnuck

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The most awaited golf book of 2022 is titled “Phil: the Rip-Roaring (and Unauthorized) Biography of Golf’s most Colorful Superstar,” featuring a look at Phil Mickelson’s life and times. Alan Shipnuck, long a respected writer in the golf interweb, has produced another long-form contribution to the vast library of golf tomes. Early leaks did nothing but heighten the anticipation of the residents of golfdom for the book’s release. Shipnuck wrote for GOLF Magazine for years, before heading out with other proven and decorated scribes to form The Fire Pit Collective. His place at GM reveals how he was able to get close to Mickelson and his inner circle. Before we continue on with the book review, it’s important to determine how Shipnuck and I have a cosmic bond. It is summed up in two words.

Bob Heppel

Bob Heppel was the guy who stood me up in the fifth grade, swim locker room. I swung and bloodied his nose. I was more stunned than he was, but I retired as a fighter with a debatable record of 1-o. Alan Shipnuck tells a similar story in the introduction to his most recent literary effort. No kindred-spirits malarkey here; the type of coincidence that the cosmos allow on occasion.

How does the book read? Well, it has an element of stream of consciousness, combined with a heavy reliance on anecdotal sequencing. It is necessary to stack story after story, to connect the dots of a sometimes-indecipherable image. That’s Phil, to a T (or a P.)

Back to me for a moment. I received the digital copy of the volume about three weeks before the release date of the paper edition. On Friday the 13th, I finally opened the PDF. As I held the PgDn button on my laptop, stopping intermittently to catch up, a random turn of phrase caught my attention:

a man’s man with big calloused hands and the briny demeanor that came from having been at sea for weeks at a time. 

It takes a special awareness of how language intersects with life to string words like that together. Those words describe one of Phil Mickelson’s grandfathers. Shipnuck gives us so much information on Phil’s ancestor that we forget for a moment, that this is a book about Phil. This is a good thing, because we need to learn about the others that helped to forge the Phil Mickelson from whom we cannot avert our eyes.

The chapter in the book that will most ally you as a Mickelson sympathizer is, predictably, the one about Winged Foot and the 2006 USGA Open. The one that will most distance you from Lefty, is the one that begins around page 150, concerning his gambling habits. The section that will have you question golf administrators in general is the one about the 2014 Ryder Cup. In other words, there are a lot of chapters that expect the reader to suddenly jump up and scream at anyone who will listen, You won’t believe this, but …

At times throughout the reading of this book, you feel like a student in a statistics class. The author presents anecdotal evidence in tens and twenties, and you try to determine if Phil Mickelson is enviable or pitiable; sincere or counterfeit; ultimately, good or bad. And then, Shipnuck delivers a knockout punch in which he melds the detached storyline of wealthy professional golfers with the reality in which the rest of us live. Shipnuck resists the temptation to offer too many of these body blows; the book is, after all, about Phil Mickelson.

At about the midway point of the book, it is revealed that Mickelson might have something of a James Bond complex, a need to put himself at greater risk than before, to determine if he can handle the pressure. This notion explains a purported interest in gambling, or a suggested enthusiasm for abandoning the US PGA tour in favor of mideast money; the latter would be the straw that broke the back of Mickelson’s most loyal sponsors.

Without giving too much away, nor attempting to drive the reader toward any sort of conclusion (which would probably have been impossible, in hindsight) there are two, late-volume sequences that lead us toward an understanding of Phil Mickelson and of Alan Shipnuck’s intent:

even Mickelson’s failings feed his image as an uninhibited thrill-seeker

This is the image that he has cultivated over the course of a lifetime. It is the gift that his parents and his grandparents bequeathed to him.

In his public statement, Mickelson allowed that his comments were “reckless” but couldn’t resist making himself both the victim and the hero of his narrative …

This statement reveals the cleverness of Shipnuck’s efforts. He allows the readers to determine which one Mickelson is. My guess is that the readership will be split down the middle. As if I needed to tell you, go buy this book. You’ll enjoy revisiting the glory days of the southpaw, but be warned: you won’t feel the same about him when you turn the final page.

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Opinion & Analysis

Viktor Hovland can dominate if he addresses this key weakness…and it’s not his chipping

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Ahead of the 2022 PGA Championship at Southern Hills, the expectations for star Viktor Hovland are sky high. Hovland is a native of Oslo, Norway but played his college golf at Oklahoma State University before turning professional in 2019.

During Hovland’s time as an amateur, he won the 2018 U.S. Amateur and earned invitations to the Masters, U.S. Open and The Open the following year. He became the first player to win low amateur honors at both the Masters and U.S. Open in the same season since 1998.

As if expectations for the 24-year-old weren’t already lofty enough, he is now returning to Tulsa, Oklahoma, as one of the favorites in a major championship in the state that he played college golf.

There is an argument to be made that Viktor Hovland is the most talented golfer on the PGA Tour. Since he arrived on the scene in 2019, the young phenom has dazzled the golf world with his tee to green excellence. He’s also become a fan favorite due to his abundance of charisma and infectious smile.

Hovland’s career thus far cannot be categorized as a disappointment. He has three regular PGA Tour victories: one at an alternate field event in Puerto Rico, and two at the Mayakoba Golf Classic. He also became the first Norwegian to win on the European Tour (Now DP World Tour) when he won the BMW International Open in June of 2021.

Despite the relative success, it would be hard to argue with the fact that something is missing.

In terms of skill set, one of the most accurate comparisons for Hovland is Rory McIlroy. By the age of 25, McIlroy had four major championships. It would be unfair to compare Hovland to McIlroy in terms of career trajectory, but I find it reasonable to expect more out of him.

Hovland will also draw many comparisons to Collin Morikawa. For better or worse, Viktor Hovland will always be mentioned in the same breath as Morikawa due to the fact that both golfers arrived on Tour at the same time, are within a year of each other in age and rank in the top five in the world.

For all of their similarities, Hovland and Morikawa are in many ways polar opposites. Hovland is a flashy, big hitting, birdie maker. Morikawa is steady, sharp, and has what I believe to be the highest golf IQ since Tiger Woods.

The Norwegian is every bit as talented as his friend and rival, but Morikawa has five PGA Tour victories, including two major championships and a World Golf Championship victory. Hovland is still searching for his first win in a marquee event.

Much has been made in recent months about Viktor Hovland’s troubles around the green. The 24-year-old has lost an average of 1.0 stroke to the field in his career in Strokes Gained: Around the Green. Hovland will be the first to tell you that he has a major weakness in his short game.

“I just suck at chipping,” The Norwegian said after his first career victory at the Puerto Rico Open in February of 2020.

While his chipping undoubtedly needs improvement, it is not his fatal flaw. Poor course management is.

Thus far, course management has been the most consequential detractor to Hovland’s career.

There have been numerous instances where Hovland has had a chance to win or at the very least contend at a tournament that would qualify as a “signature win” on Tour for Hovland. Yes, his short game has been a hindrance, but his poor course management has been a non-negotiable disqualifier.

There are countless examples of this, but in particular, three of them stuck out to me.

Back in February of 2021, Hovland was in the midst of a spectacular second round at the WGC-Concession in Bradenton, Florida. He had seven birdies and no bogeys and found himself two shots back of the lead with one hole to play.

Then disaster struck.

After driving it into the fairway bunker, Viktor put his second over the green and into the palmetto bushes. Instead of taking an unplayable and trying to get up and down for bogey from a decent lie, he decided to try and punch it out of the bush.

After his failed punch out left him in a terrible spot in the greenside bunker, he put his next shot right back into the palmetto bush where he started. He continued to mangle the 18th hole until he finally made his quadruple bogey-8. He went from two back of the lead and possibly in the final pairing to six back of the lead with a slim to none chance of contending.

There’s that infectious smile again.

Back in March, Hovland once again found himself in contention on Sunday with a chance to win the most meaningful victory of his career at The Arnold Palmer Invitational. As he approached the par-3 17th, he was tied for the lead with Scottie Scheffler at -5. The conditions in the final round were very challenging, and the obvious play was to the middle of the green to try and make par. Instead, Hovland went for the pin and came up short, leaving himself a short-sided bunker shot. He went on to make bogey. Scheffler played it to the middle of the green and two-putt for an easy par and went on to win the tournament by one stroke.

Hovland’s course management issues continued to plague him in the first round of The Masters Tournament. After ten holes, he was -1 for his round and three shots off of the lead as he headed to back nine with some birdie holes in front of him. That’s when the lack of proper course management hurt Viktor once again.

The 11th hole at Augusta National is notoriously difficult, and even more so this year as it was lengthened by fifteen yards. With very few exceptions, the entire field played the approach shot into 11 short, not daring to go over the penalty area left with such a long iron shot coming in. At the time, there was only one birdie on the hole all day.

After a beautiful tee shot, Hovland had 221 yards into the green. Inexplicably, he decided once again to attack a pin that he had no business trying to take on. In the late part of the afternoon, there had only been one birdie made there all day, and it was a 35 foot putt. Predictably, his approach shot was left of the target and splashed in the penalty area. After grinding out a very good front nine, he made a double bogey-6 on the hole. As has happened so many times in the past, his poor decision making cost him precious strokes in an event where he can’t afford to give them away.

Hovland has had a good start to his career, but with generational talent comes lofty expectations. He has plenty of time to redirect his career trajectory and accomplish all of the feats his talent should all him to, but first he must address his fatal flaw.

The PGA Championship at Southern Hills would be a good place to start.

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TG2: Max Homa talks about his club changes, JT’s new putter, Jason Day’s WITB

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This week we have a great interview with Max Homa on some recent club changes. Max seems to love gear and is one of the nicest guys in golf. Justin Thomas has a new putter in the bag and we go through Jason Day’s interesting WITB. A few other equipment news stories from the AT&T this week.

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