(Reuters) - With golf long regarded as a stern measure of character and a natural setting for deal-making, U.S. President Donald Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s weekend outing in Florida could be viewed as more than a leisurely bonding exercise between two world leaders.
U.S. President Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Abe will form a twosome for their round of golf on Saturday, presumably at the Trump International Golf Club near his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach. Details are still under wraps.
Trump told a local sports radio station last weekend golf was a better way to get to know someone than lunch and saw his match-up with Abe as a “fun” meeting between partners rather than adversaries.
Abe might feel the occasion carries more weight.
His prime minister grandfather, Nobusuke Kishi, and U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower played near Washington in 1957, a round newspapers described as a “triumph of diplomacy” between former World War Two enemies.
Abe teed off the latest round of golf diplomacy in November, giving Trump an expensive, gold-colored driver during their meeting at Trump Tower in Manhattan, where he sought assurances about the future strength of the decades-old alliance between the two nations.
With anxiety over Trump’s tough talk on currency, security and trade with Japan, some in Tokyo have expressed concern Abe might be too generous in any haggling on the fairways when pitted against the real estate mogul and author of “The Art of the Deal”.
In purely a golfing sense, Abe is likely to find Trump a formidable opponent.
“He is pretty remarkable for a 70-year-old guy,” Jaime Diaz, editor-in-chief of Golf World and a senior writer for Golf Digest, told Reuters.
“As I understand it, his handicap is 2.8. That seems a little low but I think he is very capable of playing to a five or six handicap.
“He is a legitimate good player. It’s not a ‘trumped-up’ claim that he is somebody who shoots in the 70s.”
Trump says he has won 18 club trophies and said such a winning pedigree made him the ideal man to run the country during the election race.
“See how beautiful my hands are, look at those hands. Those are powerful hands,” Trump said at a Detroit rally last year during the Republican primaries.
“(They can) hit a golf ball 285 yards.”
Retired boxer Oscar De La Hoya questioned Trump’s trustworthiness on the golf course while speaking to reporters in Las Vegas in May 2016 during the build-up to the WBC middleweight title clash between Canelo Alvarez and Amir Khan, according to the AP. Hollywood actor Samuel L. Jackson did the same in an interview he did with United Airlines’ Rhapsody magazine in January 2016. Reuters could not independently confirm these accounts.
After the Jackson interview, Trump issued a tweet that said in part: “I don’t cheat at golf.” The White House did not return a request for comment on the cheating allegations.
Diaz who has twice played with Trump, at Trump National Golf Club Charlotte in North Carolina in 2013 and more recently at the Doral resort in Florida, described the President as someone who would not need to resort to cheating to beat most players.
“I know he has won all these club championships at golf courses that he owns and a lot of people are suspect about that. But he would be a tough guy to beat with a five handicap,” the golf writer said.
“He addresses the ball with good body language ... confident and flowing and fluid. He just looks like he is going to hit a good shot.”
It is far harder to find allegations of cheating or boastfulness directed at the more circumspect Abe, who is a member of the ultra-exclusive Three Hundred Club in Kanagawa Prefecture, south-west of Tokyo.
The club, confined to only 300 members, charges some 70-80 million yen ($625,000-$715,000) for membership fees and 50,000 yen for green fees.
The 62-year-old Abe takes the game very seriously and local media have reported that rounds with his wife can get tense if he is playing poorly.
“When he is playing golf, he concentrates. So everyone else becomes intense as well,” a company president who plays Abe once or twice a year, told Reuters on condition of anonymity.
He was unsure of Abe’s handicap but confirmed reports that the Prime Minister usually shoots between 90 and 100 over 18 holes, which would place him squarely in the field of average weekend hackers.
A straight driver with a “stable” game all round, Abe is generally smartly turned out, sometimes in short pants and knee socks and always with a baseball cap on his head.
“I was impressed that Abe holds the flag on the green, while other players are putting,” the source said.
“People in a high position like him do not have to do that for others. He is very polite.”
The conservative politician is not so reserved as to shun refreshments at the ‘19th hole’ back at the clubhouse, however, where he might indulge in a couple of glasses of beer or red wine after a bath to freshen up, added the source.
For graphic on the Trump/Abe scorecard, click tmsnrt.rs/2ltvfm7
Reporting and writing by Ian Ransom in Melbourne; Additional reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Florida and Ami Miyazaki in Tokyo; Editing by Bill Tarrant