But the problem doesn’t lie just with Sorenstam and Player, two of golf’s all-time greats, who followed through with long-held plans to receive their honors from Trump in a private ceremony Thursday. The problem is with golf as a whole, because the sport has entangled itself with this embattled president and apparently doesn’t see a way to make a clean break.
That’s true at least for the PGA of America, which is scheduled to hold its signature PGA Championship at Trump’s facility in Bedminster, N.J., in 2022. That the tournament, one of four majors annually on golf’s calendar, should be moved is obvious, and it’s shameful that the PGA stood by after Wednesday’s horror show at the Capitol and announced nothing about its intentions. Messages to PGA of America spokespeople went unanswered this week. The organization’s most recent tweet is from Wednesday: a congratulations to outgoing LPGA commissioner Mike Whan.
Move along? Nothing to see here?
More than any sport I have covered — and that’s a lot of them — golf is detached from reality. In some ways, therein lies its charm. Play a late-afternoon round with a group of friends, with the shadows long and the light low, and the golf course is a perfect place to escape from the stresses of everyday life.
But such detachment creates an almost complete lack of self-awareness — from the people who play it to the people who govern it to the people who promote it. Think that’s not true? Sit in for a spirited debate about whether the grooves in the face of a club should be squared or V-shaped, or whether a putter should be anchored against the body or not, and you’ll know that the matters of import in golf don’t relate to the problems of the world. It’s elitist by nature and history. I love it, but damn if it isn’t self-absorbed and flawed.
Here, though, golf — writ large — has to understand the moment and the man in question. In choosing to go to the White House Thursday, Player and Sorenstam — natives of South Africa and Sweden, respectively — missed their chance to say, “Enough is enough.” The PGA of America can’t let a similar opportunity slide. It’s about the 2022 PGA Championship. But it’s also about the sport’s relationship with its most visible amateur player going forward.
Of all the traits golf purports to teach, honor is foremost among them. Golfers honor the rules, whether anyone is watching them or not. They honor their competitors by honestly recording their scores. In a casual amateur match, there is no referee. There is only trust that two players are reporting what happened truthfully.
“Let me make it very clear that we came here, this was all about coming to a great golf course to play the greatest championship in women’s golf,” Davis said then. “You know, the USGA since its founding in 1894 has never been involved with politics. Our focus is solely on the game of golf, and we appreciate there’s some out there that want to make this a political event, but we’re not.”
Debate whether that was an appropriate response at the time. There’s no doubt it’s an inappropriate approach following Wednesday.
That goes for playing partners, too. No leading figure in a sport has more separation between himself and whoever’s in second than Tiger Woods in golf. Before and over the course of this presidency, Woods has played golf with Trump, dined with Trump, palled 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, dislike the personality or the politics — but we all must respect the office.”
On Jan. 20, he’ll be out of office. Will Woods — or any athlete — be willing to decline the invitation of an ex-president? Teeing it up to respect the office is one thing. Teeing it up with a person who used that office to incite violence against the country whose values he was supposed to uphold is another.
Right now, the 2022 PGA Championship is the only prominent tournament slated to be held at a Trump facility. The PGA Tour moved on from a long tradition at Doral, the course Trump owns outside Miami, but that move had more to do with the tour wanting an event in Mexico than abandoning Trump. The R&A, which oversees the game in the U.K., has not scheduled its flagship British Open for Trump’s resort in Turnberry, Scotland, which last held the event in 2009 — before Trump bought the property.
But it seems likely that Trump will pursue events for his properties once he leaves office. In 2013, before he ran for president, Trump’s club in Loudoun County, Va., hosted the PGA Junior Championship. The facility overlooks the Potomac River, a beautiful spot. In the week leading up to that event, I visited 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 land like this.”
In the wake of the insurrection at the Capitol this week, many of Trump’s surrogates finally abandoned the president — by resigning or denouncing his actions or both. The PGA of America said nothing. That’s telling and troubling.
President Trump may love the sport of golf. By now, the sport can ill afford to love him back.