The problem doesn’t just lie with Sorenstam and Player, two of golf’s greats, who have long had plans to receive their honors from Trump in a private ceremony Thursday. The problem is the entire game of golf as the sport has become entangled in this embattled president and apparently sees no way to take a clean break.
This is at least true for the PGA of America, which is slated to hold its PGA Championship at Trump’s Bedminster, New Jersey facility in 2022. Obviously the tournament, one of four majors per year on the golf calendar, should be postponed. It is shameful that the PGA stood by after Wednesday’s horror show at the Capitol and announced nothing of its intentions. Messages to the PGA of America spokespersons went unanswered this week. The organization’s most recent tweet is from Wednesday: Congratulations to outgoing LPGA commissioner Mike Whan.
Keep going? There is nothing to see here?
More than any other sport I’ve covered – and many of them are – golf is detached from reality. In a way, that’s its charm. Play a late afternoon round with a group of friends, with long shadows and little light, and the golf course is the perfect place to get away from it all.
However, such distancing leads to an almost complete lack of self-esteem – from the people who play it, to the people who rule them, to the people who promote them. Do you think that is not true? Take part in a lively debate about whether or not the grooves on the face of a club should be square or V-shaped, or whether or not a putter should be anchored to the body and you will know that the important aspects of golfing don’t matter, I am referring to me not on the world’s problems. It is elitist by nature and history. I love it, but damn it, if it’s not lost in itself and flawed.
Here golf – capitalized – has to understand the moment and the man in question. When deciding to go to the White House on Thursday, Player and Sorenstam, who hailed from South Africa and Sweden respectively, missed the opportunity to say: “Enough is enough.” The PGA of America cannot miss a similar opportunity. It’s about the 2022 PGA Championship. But it is also about the relationship between the sport and its most visible amateur player in the future.
Of all the qualities golf purports to teach, honor comes first. Golfers obey the rules whether or not someone is watching them. They honor their competitors by honestly recording their scores. In an occasional amateur game there is no referee. There is only trust that two players will truthfully report what happened.
“Let me make it very clear that we came here. It was about getting to a great golf course and playing the biggest championship in women’s golf,” said Davis. “You know, USGA has never been into politics since it was founded in 1894. Our focus is solely on the game of golf and we know there are some who want this to be a political event, but we are not. “
Think about whether this was an appropriate answer at the time. There is no doubt that it is an inappropriate approach after Wednesday.
This also applies to playing partners. No leading figure in a sport has more separation between himself and whoever is second than Tiger Woods in golf. Before and during that presidency, Woods played golf with Trump, dined with Trump, and played around with Trump.
“He’s the President of the United States,” Woods said in 2018. “You have to respect the office. No matter who is in the office – you may like the personality or the politics, but we all have to respect the office.”
On January 20th he will step down from office. Will Woods – or any athlete – be ready to turn down an ex-president’s invitation? It’s one thing to respect the office. Another person who has used this office to incite violence against the country whose values he should uphold is another.
Currently, the 2022 PGA Championship is the only prominent tournament to be held at a Trump facility. The PGA Tour started from a long tradition in Doral, the course Trump owns outside of Miami, but that move had more to do with the tour wanting an event in Mexico than Trump giving up. The R&A, which oversees the game in the UK, did not plan their flagship British Open for Trump’s resort in Turnberry, Scotland, which last hosted the event in 2009 – before Trump bought the property.
But it is likely that once Trump leaves office, he will watch events for his real estate. Prior to becoming president in 2013, Trump’s Loudoun County, Virginia club hosted the PGA Junior Championship. The facility overlooks the Potomac River, a beautiful place. The week before this event, I went to the club and asked Trump about his ambitions for his courses.
“I think I’ll get many, many tournaments because I have the best product,” he told me that day. “Nobody has a country like this.”
After the Capitol uprising this week, many of Trump’s deputies left the president for good – by resigning or denouncing his actions, or both. The PGA of America said nothing. That is revealing and worrying.
President Trump may love golf. Now the sport can hardly afford to love him again.