By BILL BROTHERTON
Mike Eruzione, the longtime Winthrop resident who captained the 1980 Miracle on Ice U.S. Olympic Gold Medal hockey team at Lake Placid, had met Donald Trump many times.
“He has always struck me as a nice guy,” said Eruzione, a Tedesco CC member.
One day, the club pro at Trump International Golf Club in Jupiter, Florida, where Eruzione is also a member, approached him and said, “Mike, the president would like to play golf with you.”
A date was set to tee it up at Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach, but a scheduling conflict meant Eruzione had to cancel. Yes, he canceled on the president.
“A few weeks later, we both were available. So, on Saturday, April 21, we played,” Eruzione said without a hint of awe. “Tiger (Woods) was supposed to play, too, but he canceled at the last minute. So it was Tiger’s business manager, a three-handicap, the club’s head pro, the president and me.
“It was a fun round, with lots of laughter. I never felt I was with the president. It was more like I was with the guy I met before. … except there were lots of Secret Service agents following us around.”
Eruzione said the par 72 championship course, designed by Jim Fazio, is unlike any other course in mostly-flat Florida. It’s hilly, and the elevation of the 18th tee is 58 feet above sea level. Opened in 1999, it’s been rated the No. 1 course in Florida by Florida Golf Magazine and is a top 50 course in both Golf Digest and Golf magazine rankings.
Trump, even at age 70, is considered by many to be one of the finest golfers to ever occupy the White House. During his term, his handicap has wavered from 3 to 5.
Eruzione said the 18 holes sped by in three hours. A lot of short putts were deemed gimmes and “presidential mulligans” were granted.
“He hit it well,” said Eruzione, adding that no one officially kept score. “The fast pace of play is important to him.”
Eruzione, who carries a handicap index of 8.6 and once played to a 3, said he had a “usual round, a lot of pars, one birdie and a few doubles. I lost one ball.”
Primarily self-taught, the 63-year-old hockey hero said he never played golf until his hometown gifted him with a free Winthrop Golf Club membership after the 1980 Olympics. “I still play with the boys there quite a bit. We have lots of fun and giggles. Winthrop is a really fun course. I caddied there, starting when I was about eight years old, and I can see the eighth hole from my house.
“I have four grandchildren, a ready-made foursome for Winthrop … or an illegal fivesome if they invite me along.”
By now, Eruzione must be supremely comfortable socializing with celebrities and all-star athletes. Before the 2016 Ryder Cup at Hazeltine National GC in Minnesota, team captain Davis Love III asked Eruzione to address the players.
“Fostering a team concept in an individual sport like golf can be tough,” said Eruzione. “I was nervous at first, with (Jordan) Spieth and (Phil) Mickelson and others looking at me. I talked about our Olympics team and how teamwork made the difference. We may not have had the best players, but as a team we played better than everybody. It went over really well.”
Eruzione said after his speech, which took place in Norton, Mickelson approached and shook his hand, praising his talk.
He was invited to follow the team during the Ryder Cup matches. “During that Mickelson-(Sergio) Garcia match, I was right there inside the ropes. They both shot 63. The two made 19 birdies between them. It is considered one of the greatest matches of all time.”
That’s pretty impressive, but Eruzione jokes that he’s one-up on Mickelson. During a pre-Ryder Cup bonding session at Foxboro Stadium, a flag was placed on the football field for a closest-to-the-pin contest. Mickelson knocked it four feet from the makeshift hole. Eruzione said his shot was closer. “I have the photo to prove it,” he said with a laugh.