All the president’s men at Liberty National Golf Course

Pro golfers did not follow NFL stars by kneeling in protest during yesterday’s US national anthem at the Presidents Cup, being more concerned with Donald Trump’s proposed tax breaks than social issues, writes Adam Schupak

Former US presidents Bill Clinton, George W Bush, and Barack Obama, with golf legends Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player. Picture: Elsa

The scene on the first tee at the Presidents Cup was electric. 

On a sun-drenched autumn day, a horseshoe of fans chanted songs back and forth and three former US presidents basked in the adulation. There was Bill Clinton, George W Bush, and Barack Obama, the last three American Commanders-in-Chief, taking a selfie with Phil Mickelson. For one day, at least, the Presidents Cup lived up to its name and didn’t feel like the Ryder Cup lite.

This competition between the USA and the Rest of the World except Europe is a Johnny-come-lately and, through the first 11 renditions, the matches have been as close as the Ryder Cup before Jack Nicklaus had the bright idea for GB&I to become Team Europe.

As one of his final acts as PGA Tour commissioner in 1994, Deane Beman instinctively understood that a new event never would transcend the history of the Ryder Cup. How could it?

However, a new event could earn instant credibility by latching onto the prestige of the highest office in the land. Beman secured the support of Presidents Gerald Ford and George HW Bush and, with their seal of approval, here we are.

The pomp and circumstance of the Presidents Cup also set the stage for one of the rare moments in professional golf when the star-spangled banner is played before the competition.

For more than a year now, American athletes, most notably NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, have been kneeling during the anthem to protest racial injustice and police brutality of minorities and point out flaws in their country that have been overlooked for too long. The controversy reached a crescendo last week when President Donald Trump rescinded a White House invitation to Stephen Curry of the NBA champions Golden State Warriors and criticised the NFL and its athletes who kneel during the national anthem. On Sunday, NFL teams mostly took a unified approach.

Golf, on the other hand, has been a safe haven for President Trump.

 

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This year, the US Women’s Open and Senior PGA Championship went on as scheduled at Trump-owned venues, despite his comments deemed derogatory of women and minorities, the two groups of people the golf industry covets as its next generation as fans.

While Bush, Clinton, and Obama stole the spotlight at Liberty National yesterday, Trump is rumoured to be making an appearance at the Presidents Cup on Sunday.

What would the golfers do during musician Darius Rucker’s rendition of the US national anthem? It was much ado about nothing. There was no peaceful protest. As a whole, most pro golfers tend to sway to the right and are more concerned with Trump’s proposed tax breaks than social issues.

It was Peter Malnati, a 30-year-old Tour pro with one PGA Tour victory to his credit, who broke the silence among golfers on Sunday. Tweeting about Trump’s “son of a bitch” comment directed at NFL players taking a knee during the playing of the national anthem, Malnati said: “I ask you, what do you stand for? As for me, I stand for freedom. I stand for ‘justice for all.’ I stand for equality, for empathy and for compassion.”

Malnati’s tweet generated 315 comments, 792 retweets and nearly 2,000 likes.

At the Presidents Cup, players tried to dodge questions about the politically-charged topic. The Americans preferred talking about how great it was to have Tiger Woods as an assistant captain. Woods has never used his stature as the world’s most famous athlete to support a controversial cause that might offend any of his sponsor’s customers and he didn’t take the bait here, either.

“Obviously, there’s a lot of unrest right now, where it’s political or racial,” he said. “Hopefully, things can be healed.”

How about Phil Mickelson taking a stand? Not so much.

“There are social injustices that continue in this country, and we should all strive to eliminate that, but, for this week, I am so proud to represent my country and so appreciative of all the opportunities this great country has given me,” said Mickelson. “I get to play golf for a living, there’s just no greater thing that I could ever imagine.”

The Statue of Liberty provides a fitting backdrop for this par 5 at Liberty National Golf Club. Picture: Chris Condon

Leave it to Jack Nicklaus to sum up best how many, myself included, feel.

“I personally have always felt like, no matter where I went in the world, no matter where I played golf, whenever the national anthem was played for any country, I always stood and took my hat off and respected that anthem, and what it was, and what it meant to the people that were there,” said Nicklaus.

“Every time the national anthem is played, I get — and I have for 60, 70 years — still get a chill up and down my spine. Every time it’s played. I think it supports [and] honours the meaning of people who have given their lives, who have given their time and effort for our country, and they need to be respected for that.

“I think there’s a time and place and I think they’ll figure that out over time. I don’t believe the national anthem is the place to do that, but I can’t fault them, because it’s their right [to protest].”

Rickie Fowler of the US plays his shot to cheers from the

crowd. Picture: Sam Greenwood

As an American, the national anthem has always meant more than a rote exercise to get to the first pitch or kickoff. It is a unifying moment. In no other place do you bring 40,000 people together in a civic setting and celebrate your country. Every athlete has a right to take a knee, but they also have the right to curse in front of three elderly women. You wouldn’t do it, because it is disrespectful. All of a sudden, disrespecting your country, your flag, and those who gave their life for it, and you are some kind of hero.

It didn’t surprise me to see golf fans remove their hat and place their right hand on their chest when Rucker began singing on the first tee at Liberty National. Golf is a game where we follow a certain etiquette. You don’t step in your playing competitor’s line and you shake hands when the match is settled. Likewise, the flag was respected at the opening of play at the Presidents Cup, and that’s par for the course.


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