No one chases a cheer harder than President Donald J. Trump, and the PGA Tour knows this. Consider Sunday’s scene: Trump is up on the third floor of Liberty National’s clubhouse, inside the Commissioner’s Hospitality, for the final round of the Presidents Cup. Overlooking the 14th hole, Trump, in a dark suit with an open-collared shirt sans tie, eyed the golfers as they approached the green. He watched them putt, applauded them, waved and continued to eye them as they walked by.
No acknowledgements followed.
Two American players strolled past unaware of his presence. Enter Tyler Dennis, the senior vice president for tour competitions. He wore a pink tie and dark shades as he hustled over to the rough, standing by a rope that led to the cart path. He started tipping the players as they departed the green en route to the 15th hole.
“Give him a wave,” Dennis told American golfer Dustin Johnson.
Johnson abided. Trump nodded.
“Hey guys, the president’s up there in the corner, if you could….” Dennis told Kevin Kisner.
Kisner acquiesced. Trump clapped.
“Hey, President Trump is up there, Phil,” Dennis said to Phil Mickelson.
Mickelson lifted his eyes. He knew the cue, flashing a thumb’s up to the Commander in Chief. Trump pumped his fist multiple times.
It is a sycophantic symphony that Trumps seeks as a personal anthem in his war against the sports world. He serves red meat to his base, riling them up from Huntsville, Ala. to Hudson County, and tries out lyrics that might last a lifetime if they inspire the right uproar. Hats with “Make America Great Again” stitched on them dotted the crowd as Trump watched the Americans level the Internationals, 18-11. Trump then descended from his perch. Secret Service agents flooded the green. A K-9 sniffed around for bombs. Trump, coming over a slope by a sand bunker, put down his dog whistle long enough to lift the gold championship cup.
In a change of tune, he dedicated it to victims of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico. Fans serenaded him with an a-capella, off-key rendition of “America the Beautiful.” They chanted, “Ban the NFL!” One yelled, “Overpaid hypocrites!” Four recited the pledge of allegiance before shouting, “Hillary for prison!” Trump beamed, posing for photos and bouncing around. Trump clasped hands with Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson. The tour knew how to tickle him, announcing that he was the first sitting president to hand out the cup. There is nothing the 45th American president holds dearer than being the first at anything.
Air space is cleared for the president’s travels; airwaves are choked by him. He is the omnipresent president on TV, but there is nowhere he feels more at home than in a privileged enclave. He arrived via helicopter, Marine One ushering him to a landing spot behind Lady Liberty’s back and surrounded by 13 American flags. His motorcade – 21 vehicles long – ushered him a mile to inside the golf club’s gates. In nearly nine months as president, he has spent 68 days at a golf course. He woke up at his eponymous club in Bedminster, N.J. that sits 45 miles west of Manhattan and six miles from USGA Headquarters. He made his way to Jersey City before 3 p.m. Agents in bulletproof vests accompanied him in his links lust like caddies in carts.
Coast Guard vessels patrolled the harbor in the background. In Trump’s wake are knees taken, raised fists and arms linked. The Golden State Warriors are not visiting the White House after winning the NBA Finals last season. LeBron James considers Trump a “bum.” ESPN broadcaster Jemele Hill considers him a white supremacist. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is meeting with players and owners in search of a path forward following last week’s decisions by teams and players to sit, kneel or completely abstain from the national anthem prior to games. Those reactions came about following Trump’s declaration that owners should remove players kneeling in protest of police brutality: “Get that son of a b—- off the field.”
Few can pivot quite like Trump. A few years ago he was landing his personal helicopter on the practice field outside Gillette Stadium for a Monday Night Football game as a guest of owner Robert Kraft. The NFL never let him into the ring of owners, but the PGA is in business with the president. Trump is entrenched in the golf world. In May, his course in Washington, D.C., hosted the PGA Senior Championship. Over the summer, Trump’s Bedminster club hosted the U.S. Women’s Open. In 2022 the PGA Championship will be played there, as well.
At his worst, Trump is The Ugliest American, needling North Korea about Little Rocket Man or twisting the knife in rivals’ innards. On Sunday, he holed up in the clubhouse and held court on the green afterward. Players were asked what it was like to share a stage with Trump. Jordan Spieth, the Golden Boy, spoke first as 18 Americans measured their answers. He looked to team captain Steve Stricker.
“Strick?” Spieth said.
“She said anybody,” Stricker said.
“I thought it was a great thrill,” Stricker said. “This tournament is about respecting the office, respecting the president of the United States, whether your views may be one way versus another.”
Cue up the anthem. It was all music to Trump’s ears. A poll was then taken. If asked, who was up for visiting the White House?
Many players, all seated at a table for a post-tournament press conference, remained silent. Stricker was all in, as was Charley Hoffman.
“Hell yeah!” Hoffman said.
Hallelujah. There’s an athlete or two still willing to visit the White House. The president must be so proud.