WASHINGTON: As much as President Donald Trump loves golf, leaders of the sport are racing away from the embattled US leader for what they say is the good of the game. The PGA of America stripped the 2022 PGA Championship from Trump National at Bedminster, New Jersey, on Sunday, days after Trump supporters attacked the US Capitol.
PGA of America chief executive officer Seth Waugh says associating with Trump would be harmful for the organization’s brand and its mission to grow and support the sport. “It became clear to us that our brand was at stake,” Waugh told The Golf Channel on Monday. “We thought we were putting at risk that mission if we were to hold the tournament at Trump Bedminster.”
The R&A, global golf’s governing body, said Monday that Trump Turnberry, a past regular stop for the British Open, was not in current plans for the championship. “We had no plans to stage any of our championships at Turnberry and will not do so in the foreseeable future,” the R&A said in a statement. “We will not return until we are convinced that the focus will be on the championship, the players and the course itself and we do not believe that is achievable in the current circumstances.”
Trump Bedminster hosted the 2017 US Women’s Open, the US Golf Association pressing ahead despite protesters outside the club. It was awarded the 2022 PGA in 2014 by the PGA of America, which called removing the event a business decision rather than a political one.
“Right now in the country almost anybody views any decision being made as political,” PGA of America president Jim Richerson told Golf Channel. “We tried to take politics out of it and just get back and focus on our brand and what’s best for the game of golf. We all believe it was the right decision.”
Trump’s trademark love of golf includes ownership of at least 17 worldwide golf properties and hundreds of rounds played during his presidency. At the 2017 Presidents Cup, Trump became the first sitting President to award the trophy after a 19-11 US victory at Liberty National in New Jersey. Trump has played alongside such stars as Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, who gave lukewarm support after rounds. “Well, he’s the president of the United States. You have to respect the office,” Woods said in 2018. “You may like, dislike personality or the politics, but we all must respect the office.”
Woods, a 15-time major winner, received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Trump in 2019. McIlroy played alongside Trump in 2017 but said last year he doubted he would do it again. “I probably wouldn’t, no,” McIlroy said last May. “The day that I did spend with him and others was very enjoyable. He’s very charismatic and was nice to everyone… That doesn’t mean I agree with everything — or, in fact, anything — that he says.”
Waugh wouldn’t say if he thought Trump was good for golf. “I know he has a passion for it and I know he has certainly done an awful lot of good,” Waugh said. “He owns some of the greatest properties on the planet and I know he has been a good steward for those properties. I know he has an abiding love for the game and I hope he continues to have a home in it.”
There’ll be detractors
Waugh also realizes that in a divided nation, Trump has his supporters even among the PGA of America membership. “We’re not naive about the fact there will be detractors,” Waugh said. “We hope they can understand we made this not as a political statement but as caretakers for our mission and our game.”
Critics of the PGA of America move included PGA Tour player Grayson Murray. The 27-year-old American, ranked 563rd, won his only title at the 2017 Barbasol Championship. “Hey @POTUS you should just host a tournament the same week as the 2022 PGA championship at your course,” Murray tweeted. “Put up a huge purse that players can’t turn down. Make the pga championship a weak field or force them to up their purse and cost them more money.”
Trump got Nicklaus vote
Jack Nicklaus, an 18-time major champion, tweeted last October that he voted for Trump. “I have seen a resolve and a determination to do the right thing for our country,” he tweeted. “His love for America and its citizens, and putting his country first, has come through loud and clear. Trump is a notorious golf cheat, according to Rick Reilly’s 2019 book “Commander in Cheat”, which detailed Trump’s golf, noting some caddies nicknaming him “Pele” for kicking balls from the rough into the fairway.
The PGA of America dropped the 2015 Grand Slam of Golf from Trump National in Los Angeles after Trump made remarks about Mexican immigrants and in 2016, four years after Trump bought Doral, the PGA Tour moved its WGC event to Mexico City after it had been played there since 1962. – AFP