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PGA makes correct decision in severing ties with Trump

January 11th, 2021

One of the finest elements of the Ryder Cup is the foursomes competition, where a team of two players shares one ball, alternating shots as they go. The format forces players to rethink their entire approach to the game because a bad player can easily drag a good one down.

President Donald Trump and the PGA of America have been paired up in a kind of foursome competition of their own for the last six years, and for most of that time, the PGA has been cleaning up Trump’s wayward shots. Sunday night, the PGA decided it had seen enough of this particular partnership, stripping Trump National in New Jersey of the 2022 PGA Championship in the wake of deadly riots spurred by Trump supporters at the U.S. Capitol.

The PGA, which awarded Trump the tournament before he even ran for president, held out as long as it could. The PGA stood by Trump through five years’ worth of controversies, from spats with military families to border catastrophes to the continued insistence — with no evidence — of widespread election fraud. Only when pro-Trump demonstrators rioted at the Capitol and left five dead in their wake did the PGA act.

For the PGA, this wasn’t a decision about politics or morality. Quite simply, Trump has become bad for business.

“We find ourselves in a political situation not of our making,” Seth Waugh, the CEO of the PGA of America, told the Associated Press on Sunday night. “We’re fiduciaries for our presenters, for the game, for our mission and for our brand. And how do we best protect that? Our feeling was given the tragic events of Wednesday that we could no longer hold it at Bedminster. The damage could have been irreparable. The only real course of action was to leave.”

It’s eminently understandable. When you vouch for someone, you don’t expect them to embarrass you to the point they annihilate your reputation. It’s like bringing in a guest to play at your favorite course. Telling a few dirty jokes in the grill room after the round is one thing; threatening to burn down the clubhouse if you don’t win the club championship is something else entirely.

The PGA Championship was supposed to be the pinnacle of Trump’s long ascent to golf’s pantheon. Back in his reality-TV days, Trump was a real-life Al Czervik, loud and obnoxious but ultimately harmless. He hosted made-for-TV events like “Donald J. Trump’s Wonderful World of Golf,” throwbacks to the game’s ’60s-era, celebrity-studded clambakes. He hyped up these exhibitions with characteristic Trumpian bravado, but nobody really took any of that seriously, as you can see from this classic promo:

For all his bold talk, though, Trump never quite cracked golf’s elite. He wasn’t spotted wearing a green jacket under the oak at Augusta National. He wasn’t part of the old-guard “Eastern Establishment” golf clubs. His many courses, while often showing up on Top 50 lists, rarely hosted significant tournaments, much less majors. He craved legitimacy in the eyes of the golf establishment, and if he couldn’t schmooze his way through locked gates, he’d just buy his way in.

Trump purchased Turnberry in Scotland, one of the most esteemed courses in the Open Championship rotation, in 2014. He upgraded Trump National in Bedminster to the point that the USGA awarded him the 2017 U.S. Women’s Open, and in 2014 the PGA awarded him the 2022 PGA Championship. At last, golf’s clown prince was on the verge of becoming true royalty.

And then he decided to run for president.

Trump began his presidential run in 2015 with aggressive isolationist, anti-immigrant rhetoric. That immediately prompted the PGA to cancel that year’s planned Grand Slam of Golf slated for Trump National Los Angeles Golf Club; the entire event was torpedoed the next year.

Other organizations soon followed. The PGA Tour — a separate organization from the PGA of America — moved its tournament from Trump’s famed Doral course to Mexico in 2017 because of an inability to find sponsors willing to associate themselves with Trump.

“I know everybody’s talking about politics, but it’s actually not that, in my view,” then-PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said at the time. “I think it’s more Donald Trump is a brand, a big brand, and when you’re asking a company to invest millions of dollars in branding a tournament and they’re going to share that brand with the host, it’s a difficult conversation.”

On the other side of the Atlantic, the R&A, golf’s organizing body in the United Kingdom, took the extraordinary step of removing Turnberry, one of its most venerable courses, from consideration for future Open Championships.

Turnberry — which Trump renamed “Trump Turnberry” — had been slated to host the 2020 Open, but in 2015 the R&A deemed that Trump’s incendiary anti-immigrant rhetoric was disqualifying. (The 2020 Open was canceled because of the pandemic.) It was a remarkable rebuke of Trump, given that Turnberry is the site of two of the most iconic moments in golf history: Tom Watson’s “Duel in the Sun” against Jack Nicklaus in 1977, and Watson’s near-victory at age 59 in 2009.

The PGA’s 2022 cancellation marks the latest, and most decisive, blow against Trump’s grand golf ambitions. Trump had made no secret of his desire to host a men’s major, and he appeared on track to do so. Trump, like any golfer, knows the route to golf immortality runs through the majors.

The PGA now faces the daunting task of finding a replacement site with just 16 months’ advance notice, and litigation from the Trump organization will almost surely arrive. Calling the cancellation “incredibly disappointing,” Trump officials noted in a Sunday night statement that “this is a breach of a binding contract and they have no right to terminate the agreement,” the statement said. “As an organization we have invested many, many millions of dollars in the 2022 PGA Championship at Trump National Golf Club, Bedminster.”

Critics will say that the PGA is taking a conveniently politically correct route, that this is another case of “wokeness” invading sports, or that golf hates conservative politics. All of that’s absurd. Golf is the most right-leaning sport in America. The golf establishment will almost surely line up behind whomever the Republicans nominate for president in 2024, the same way they lined up for Trump in the last two elections. He enjoyed the full-throated endorsement of legends like Nicklaus, who penned a long letter of endorsement just before the 2020 election, and the implicit backing of Tiger Woods, Dustin Johnson and other pros who teed it up with Trump while he was in office.

Trump won the election in 2016, and garnered a significant percentage of the vote in 2020, because plenty of Americans either approved of, or were willing to put up with, his rough edges. Had he stopped talking back on Nov. 3, former President Donald Trump would have been well on his way to a third act of leisure and influence, at last swinging a DeChambeau-length driver in the world of his beloved golf.

But Trump couldn’t let the election loss go, and as a result he crossed a final line on Wednesday. Whether he incited a riot or failed to do enough to contain one is a matter for Congress. What’s clear is that a majority of Americans now blame him for the riot and support his removal, and impeachment has bipartisan support. There’s no way back from that for Trump, and no way forward with him for the PGA.

The PGA made the right decision. And Trump has no one to blame for it but himself. He had the opportunity to join golf’s upper echelon in his hands, and he bellowed his way right out of it.

Donald Trump in 2005 at the site of one of his courses. (Photo by Mel Melcon/ Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)


Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @jaybusbee or contact him at

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