BY MARI YAMAGUCHI
TOKYO (AP) — If they stick to schedule, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and U.S. President Donald Trump will spend more time on the fairways than at the White House.
After facing off on some divisive issues in Washington on Friday, they jet to Florida, where they will turn to something they have in common on Saturday: a love of golf.
Trump, who operates 18 golf courses around the world and at one time even had his own show on the Golf Channel, is one of the best golfers in U.S. presidential history. Can Abe even get close?
HOW GOOD IS ABE?
His score is a “state secret,” Abe once told Japanese reporters staking him out when he played, and that has become the official line. But last August, a fellow player reported that Abe had done well, finishing with a 91. His handicap remains a secret.
Trump shoots in the 70s and had a handicap of 2.8 last year, according to Golf Digest magazine. Though he goes after the ball hard, Golf Digest described his approach as “quite under control.” Trump has denied cheating allegations by retired boxer Oscar De La Hoya, who once questioned Trump’s integrity on the course.
Tiger Woods played golf with Trump in Florida right before Christmas, and said he was impressed with how hard Trump hit the ball for a 70-year-old. “People don’t realize he’s that old and he can rip it and hit it as far as he does. Keeps himself in pretty good shape and pretty good health and has an inordinate amount of energy,” Woods said.
Jim Herman, the Houston Open winner, has known Trump for nearly 10 years. He was an assistant pro at Trump’s club in New Jersey and Trump encouraged him to try for the PGA Tour.
“He’s a true competitor. He wants to win and has a great putting stroke,” Herman said. “He drives the ball really well, hits some good irons but he can putt the golf ball. If there’s a putt to be made for the match, he usually made it.”
Abe rushed to New York to meet Trump days after the November election and gave him a pricey Honma driver. Trump reciprocated with a golf shirt and other golf goods. Japanese media will be watching closely to see if they use those gifts at Trump’s golf course in West Palm Beach.
The gold-colored driver is the best in the BERES S-05 series made by Honma Golf Co., a Japanese company known for its craftsmanship. Abe said he spent his own money on the driver, which Japanese media reported cost 500,000 yen ($4,500).
Tokyo-based Honma has been acquired by a Chinese company, though the clubs are still assembled at a factory in Yamagata in northern Japan. Abe’s gift to former U.S. President Barack Obama, who once said his handicap was an “honest 13,” was a Yamada putter.
Abe isn’t the first Japanese prime minister to be invited to golf by an American leader. His grandfather and role model, then-Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi, played with then-President Dwight Eisenhower in 1957, ahead of talks on a revision to the 1951 U.S.-Japan security pact.
Archival photos show them smiling at the Burning Tree course in Maryland. Eisenhower won, shooting 74 to Kishi’s 99. The two sides finally agreed to a revision in 1960 that made the treaty more equal for Japan.
But a planned second round of golf in Japan never happened, as Eisenhower canceled a visit to Tokyo in June 1960 because of intensifying Japanese protests against the security pact. The demonstrations led to Kishi’s resignation the following month.
AP Golf Writer Doug Ferguson contributed to this report.
Follow Mari Yamaguchi on Twitter at twitter.com/mariyamaguchi
Her work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/mari-yamaguchi
Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.