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Dana Milbank: President Trump is not playing enough golf

Dana Milbank: President Trump is not playing enough golf

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WASHINGTON — Five months after the pandemic took over our lives, after nearly 150,000 died in the United States, and after the economy went into intensive care, President Donald Trump said last week that he was "in the process of developing a strategy" to fight the coronavirus.

Why the rush?

Now, the strategy the president has been so hurriedly developing has come into sharp focus. He plans to defeat the virus in a round of golf — no matter how high the membership fees, how great the hazards, or how long the hours on the practice green.

As the daily death toll has again climbed above the 1,000-a-day mark — the equivalent in deaths of a 9/11 attack every three days — Trump has redoubled efforts to lower his handicap. He has visited golf courses 17 times since late May, including 11 times in the past month, according to TrumpGolfCount.com, part of a cottage industry tracking the president's favorite outdoor pursuit.

He played golf Saturday with football Hall of Famer Brett Favre. He tweeted Sunday morning that Favre "hits it LONG!" — and then went out to play another round on Sunday. He says he does "a lot of work" on the golf course (and a "tiny bit of exercise"). His "work" apparently even extends to Britain, where, The New York Times reported, Trump asked the U.S. ambassador to get the British government to steer the British Open tournament to the Trump Turnberry resort in Scotland. (Trump denies the report, so it must not be true.)

An hour after returning from Sunday's round, Trump issued a tweet expressing exhaustion with his hectic routine. He said he would be unable to throw out the opening pitch at the Yankees game on Aug. 15 "because of my strong focus on the China Virus." If the nascent baseball season hasn't been snuffed out by the virus by that date, New Yorkers, who favor Joe Biden by 25 points over Trump, no doubt will be crestfallen because of the president's absence.

But we all must make allowance for his newfound "strong focus" on the coronavirus, which Trump is fighting with every tool in his golf bag: not just irons and wedges, but putters, drivers and fairway woods. Several sources familiar with his strategy say he is even considering using the rarely unsheathed 2-iron.

Some critics say the president should hang up his spikes. "Trump has time to golf as states report more than 1,000 COVID-19 deaths for fifth day straight," was the liberal site Daily Kos' unkind assessment Sunday.

Mehdi Hasan of Al Jazeera and the Intercept noted that the virus death toll is "the equivalent of four plane crashes a day in the US, killing everyone on board" while "the president is golfing this weekend. Again."

To these critics, I retort: Now watch this drive.

Trump's problem is not that he's playing too much golf. His problem is he isn't playing enough golf. Part of this is for the reason New Yorker satirist Andy Borowitz reflected in May with his piece titled, "Fauci Urges Trump to Remain on Golf Course Until Pandemic Is Over."

It's not just a matter of distracting Trump while the professionals fight the virus. Much of what he needs to know about fighting a pandemic can be learned on the golf course.

Consider some basic rules of etiquette in golf:

Keep up with the foursome in front of you.

Don't throw your clubs.

Replace your divots, repair ball marks and rake bunkers.

Don't step on another player's line or into another player's line of vision.

Listen to your caddy's advice.

If your errant shot puts others in danger, yell "FORE!"

The rules of presidential etiquette during a pandemic are similar:

Keep up with the rest of the world on testing and personal protective equipment.

Don't blame the World Health Organization and the Democrats for everything.

Clean up your own policy messes and don't tell governors to compete for ventilators.

Wear a mask and maintain social distancing.

Listen to public health experts' advice.

If a deadly virus is spreading, don't tell people it will "disappear."

Above all, though, golf is a game of honor. If you hook your tee shot into the woods, you look for the ball for five minutes, then assess yourself a penalty stroke if you can't find it. That may be the hardest lesson of all for Trump. According to those who have played with him, Trump doesn't take a penalty stroke; he simply gives himself a "mulligan" -- a free do-over. It lowers his score, but it's cheating.

Maybe that's why he has such trouble with the pandemic. He can get away with cheating on the golf course. But COVID-19, as we have seen, does not allow mulligans.

Dana Milbank is a columnist for The Washington Post. 

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