Trump, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe overcome 'rocky start' with golf diplomacy

Tradition began with Shinzo Abe's grandfather, who golfed with Eisenhower.

Abe spoke first to the dinner at Akasaka Palace and shared lessons of the golf diplomacy passed on to him by his grandfather, who served as prime minister of Japan and also golfed with a U.S. president: Dwight Eisenhower.

"Sixty years ago, my grandfather, Prime Minister Kishi and President Eisenhower, were the ones who initiated this tradition," Abe said of Nobusuke Kishi, who was Japanese prime minister from 1957 to 1960.

Soon after Trump’s arrival in Tokyo Sunday, he and Abe played nine holes at Kasumigaseki Country Club, the planned site of the 2020 Olympics golf tournament. It was the second time the two leaders golfed together, having also hit the links together earlier this year when Abe visited Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida.

"Yesterday golf diplomacy between Donald and me attracted so much attention and we actually made everything public except for the scores," Abe said.

After Sunday’s game, Abe said he had learned a lesson in golf diplomacy of his own: "When you play golf with someone not just once, but twice, the person must be your favorite guy.”

Trump then offered a toast of his own, referring to Abe as a “good friend” but also noting that he’s a “very, very tough negotiator” and revealing their relationship got off to a “rocky start.”

It all started when Trump received a congratulatory call from Abe soon after his surprise election victory.

“After I had won, everybody was calling me from all over the world. I never knew we had so many countries," Trump joked.

The president, noting his inexperience in politics, said he was unaware he wasn’t supposed to see world leaders until after Jan, 20, because it’s “not a nice thing to do” to the outgoing president. So when Abe expressed interest in meeting him, the president replied, “I said anytime you want.”

Little did Trump know that Abe would take him up on the offer so soon, saying he thought they wouldn't meet until after the inauguration. But it wasn’t long after their call, Trump recalled, that reporters were calling Trump Tower with news that Abe was coming to New York City to meet him.

The president said aides told him he couldn’t take the meeting, but that when he got around to trying to call Abe to back out, the prime minister was already on the plane headed his way. Trump decided at the time that he wouldn’t not meet with the prime minister at that point.

“You have a very aggressive, strong, tough prime minister. That’s a good thing, not a bad thing,” Trump said today.

The president then remarked on the now-famous gold golf driver that Abe gifted the president during that first meeting, calling it "the most beautiful club I have ever seen."

Thanking Abe and his wife for the warm welcome that he and the first lady received in Japan, the president predicted that the two nations’ strong friendship will endure for hundreds of years to come.

“Our two great countries will have incredible friendship and incredible success for many centuries to come,” he said.