Tour Confidential: Should Golf’s Governing Bodies Sever All Ties to Donald Trump?

December 14, 2015
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Every Sunday night, conducts an e-mail roundtable with writers from Sports Illustrated and Golf Magazine. Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors and join the conversation in the comments section below.

1. After Donald Trump’s incendiary remarks about Muslims, golf has begun to distance itself from the presidential candidate. reported that following the 2016 WGC-Cadillac Championships at Trump Doral, the PGA Tour will look at other venues for the event, and on Sunday The Independent reported that the R&A has “privately decided” it’s pulling future Opens from the course. Other big-time events are still scheduled for Trump courses, including the 2017 U.S. Women’s Open and the 2022 PGA Championship, both at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J. Should the game sever all ties to Trump?

Jeff Ritter, digital development editor, Sports Illustrated Golf Group (@Jeff_Ritter): Trump has invested a lot of his own cash to help grow the game, but his comments along the campaign trail have been divisive and insulting, and the complete antithesis of what golf is all about. It’s up to the organizations who run the events to make these decisions. The R&A has spoken, and Turnberry, a venerable course steeped in Open tradition, is now out. I expect the PGA and USGA to eventually follow suit, and I don’t blame them at all.

Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@GaryVanSickle): It’s going to be a little tougher to sever ties to Trump if, for example, he is elected president. It seems like a long shot, sure, unless you look at the polls. Would you really want to insult the president by ditching his course? But of course the tournaments and ruling bodies have to deal with political correctness so it may happen.

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Joe Passov, senior editor, Golf Magazine (@joepassov): How can you answer this question without getting half the country mad at you? I had been a huge (pronounced “YUGE”) Trump supporter these last few years, because he was investing serious money into and bringing serious publicity to golf at a time the sport needed it. Yet, he has to know that preaching exclusionary policies is going to have negative repercussions with the sport’s governing bodies who (now) aim to include everybody. This wasn’t always the case with the folks who run the four major championships, as well as with the PGA Tour, and let’s not forget that. Still, the Donald surely must know that his “my way or the highway” approach is going to cost him many relationships (beyond the ones he’s already lost), even if he’s been proved 100 percent right, as he contends. However, let’s not overreact by severing all ties. He hasn’t committed any crimes. Having said that, ultimately, our golf organizations will have to decide what’s best for the majority of their constituents. If that decision is “dump Trump,” it certainly won’t come as a surprise.

Josh Sens, contributing writer, GOLF Magazine: (@JoshSens) No. Trump may be the grotesque embodiment of a lot of repugnant things, but the second you start drawing black and white lines like that, you quickly enter the gray area of hypocrisy. Some of the best players in the world peg it regularly in China, hardly a bastion of political freedom. Should that stop? If the game is going to sever ties to Trump, it should also probably pull up all its connections to countries in the Middle East with oppressive regimes. On it goes.

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: I would prefer to see Trump play with three scratch Muslims, no mulligans, and see what he might learn.

Cameron Morfit, senior writer, GOLF Magazine (@CameronMorfit): Golf needs to fire Trump, the sooner the better. The game already has a reputation for being exclusive and stuck in the past, so any further association with Trump will only give more ammo to the haters.

Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@AlanShipnuck): Yes. This year marked the 25th anniversary of Shoal Creek; golf has spent the last quarter-century trying to convince the public it has moved beyond its racist and xenophobic past. There’s no room in the sport for such divisive rhetoric from the host of so many big-time events.

Brendan Mohler, assistant editor, (@bmohler09): Severing all ties with Trump would be too much too fast, but the R&A has made the correct decision regarding the British Open. Trump’s long-stated goal as a powerful figure in golf is to host a men’s major championship on one of his courses, and his purchase of Turnberry seemed to all but seal that fate. The R&A was even overseeing changes to the Ailsa course, made as part of significant upgrade fueled by Trump’s money, that are designed to bring the world’s oldest major back to Turnberry. Golf would be wrong to completely blackball Trump at this point, but the game also shouldn’t be rewarding him for his outrageous comments.

2. Jason Dufner partnered with Brandt Snedeker to win the Franklin Templeton Shootout in Naples, Florida. It wasn’t an official Tour win, which means Duf is still winless since his triumph at the 2013 PGA Championship. In the last 10 years, which major-winner has most underperformed since his/her major moment?

RITTER: I expected more from Duf after his PGA win, but on the list of one-and-done vanishing acts, he wouldn’t crack a top five ahead of Michael Campbell, Lucas Glover, Trevor Immelman, Y.E. Yang or Darren Clarke.

VAN SICKLE: Shaun Micheel was a startling one-hit wonder at Oak Hill when the course had rough unplayably deep that birdies were mostly by accident. He had some physical issues that adversely affected him and never won anything else. I’ve been surprised that Charl Schwartzel hasn’t done more since his Masters win.

PASSOV: This is right about where I jump aboard my Keegan Bradley-bashing train. He’s the guy who edged Dufner to win the 2011 PGA. After that, he seemed to be this popular phenom, mentored by Mickelson, flag-waving Captain’s favorite for Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup teams, big-time endorser…and the last time I checked, he’s won exactly once since that PGA win, at the 2012 WGC-Bridgestone at Firestone, when Jim Furyk inexplicably double-bogeyed the last hole. His fellow 2014 Ryder Cup Captain’s pick, 2012 U.S. Open champ Webb Simpson, is the only one who comes close in terms of underachieving since their major glory.

SENS: Webb Simpson won the U.S. Open in 2012, then made a funny crack when that birdman dude interrupted his post-round interview. But there hasn’t been much to get excited about since then.

BAMBERGER: Since his or her most recent major moment? Tiger.

MORFIT: Keegan Bradley has not played well for a few years. He’s due for a bounce back. But no one has disappeared quite like Y.E. Yang.

SHIPNUCK: Michael Campbell is an easy pick but, in fact, he was under-performing even *before* he won the Open. There have always been flukish major winners, and probably always will be. Rather than pick on these guys we should salute them for their exquisite timing – they picked the perfect week to career.

MOHLER: It’s a close battle between Lucas Glover and Trevor Immelman, but I’ll go with Glover as his success before winning the 2009 U.S. Open was also quite limited. Also, he snatched an elusive U.S. Open victory out of Phil Mickelson’s hands, which makes his victory at Bethpage all the more memorable and justifies somewhat high expectations going forward.


3. Social media sensation Paige Spiranac (500,000 Twitter followers and counting) was given a sponsor’s exemption to play in the Ladies European Tour’s Dubai Masters last week. She shot 77-79 and missed the cut by eight. Generally speaking, do you feel its acceptable for tournament organizers to invite “celebrities” to play in their events to help generate publicity?

RITTER: Sponsors shell out a lot of money to put their names on these tournaments, and they can use exemptions however they see fit. Can’t blame the Dubai Masters for saving a spot for Spiranac, who despite her poor play delivered the extra publicity tournament organizers were banking on.

VAN SICKLE: Celebrity invites may seem demeaning but it’s the sponsor’s event so it can invite who it wants. This is entertainment, after all. There have been a series of football players and other ex-jocks given invites on occasion and it hasn’t gone well. Jerry Rice, for instance, didn’t break 90 at a Nationwide event and got DQ’d or penalized because he didn’t know the basic rule about using a rangefinder. But in the name of promotion and selling tickets, all is fair.

PASSOV: I am not one of Paige Spiranac’s followers and truthfully, have no idea if she has legitimate pro potential. However, I have no problem with organizers tossing her a sponsor’s exemption. It’s not as if she were a player from another sport who couldn’t break 80–or even 90–as has been the case elsewhere. There are many reasons to issue a sponsor’s exemption and if one of them is because that player will draw heavy publicity to an event where there would otherwise be little, I say good for them, good for her.

SENS: Absolutely. For all the ways we may attempt to invest them with profound meaning, sports are entertainment, part of our steady diet of bread and circus. Tournament organizers should be free to serve up all of the latter that they see fit. Sure, those organizers have to weigh the pros and cons, and in this case, was there really any major downside? Did Paige Spiranac’s presence really do anything to diminish the lofty prestige of the Ladies European Tour’s Dubai Masters?

BAMBERGER: Tournament organizers should use those spots as they see fit. There’s nothing wrong with trying to see some tickets. These events are public spectacles in addition to being athletic contests.

MORFIT: Hey, it’s show business. It’s been pointed out that this was an event exactly no one was talking about before Spiranac. So she’s good looking. She still deserves a shot.

SHIPNUCK: You mean like John Daly? It’s the world we live in that Spiranac has a bigger following than Lydia Ko, so you can’t blame the tourney for making the invite, or her for accepting. But her shaky play, subsequent self-loathing and the blowback from other players has made it clear it wasn’t a good idea and I doubt it will be repeated anytime soon.

MOHLER: Generally, it’s acceptable if done sparingly. This was also the LET’s Dubai Masters, not the U.S. Women’s Open, meaning it’s an event that can use the added coverage. Lots of tours and events around the world have rules about scores shot while playing under a sponsor’s exemption or one-time qualifier, mainly for the purpose of preventing people who are closer to celebrity than professional golfer from competing more than once. (By the way, Spiranac fails squarely in that category.) The problem with inviting competitors even of Paige’s stature, is that the exemption is typically a waste after the second round.

4. Lorne Rubenstein last week told that in his much-publicized interview with Tiger Woods the only question that gave Woods pause was a query about Woods’ short-game struggles. If you could ask Tiger one question and he was obligated to give you a truthful answer, what would you ask him?

RITTER: Why so serious? (But I’d only wield a pen and notebook.)

VAN SICKLE: Tiger, why did you really leave Butch Harmon because your overall game was never better?

PASSOV: Tiger: Three rounds of match play, you at your best versus Jack at his best. Round 1 at Augusta National, Round 2 at Pebble Beach, tiebreaker, if necessary at the Old Course at St. Andrews. Who wins? I know what he’s going to say. I just want to hear him say it.

SENS: Which member of the media would you most like to punch out and why?

BAMBERGER: I would borrow one for Jay Leno, to Hugh Grant: What were you thinking?

MORFIT: With which members of the media have you gone out to dinner countless times?

SHIPNUCK: Was it worth it?

MOHLER: I would want to know whether Woods thought he could still break Nicklaus’ major record after his 2009 scandal.


5. On Sunday, still-major-less Lee Westwood qualified for what will be his 22nd consecutive British Open appearance. On the feel-good meter what, if any, story would rate higher than Westy winning the Claret Jug?

RITTER: Casey Martin qualifies, rips around Troon in a cart and wins by five.

VAN SICKLE: Westwood would be a feel-good story in England but I don’t think American golf fans have ever been all that invested in him. He’s a delightful guy with a good sense of humor but American fans don’t know him well. Erik Compton and Luke Donald would rate higher and for a lot of folks, dare I say it–Tiger Woods.

PASSOV: I like Lee Westwood and I occasionally feel bad that he never did grab a major when it was within reach so many times. Yet, he was never all that unlucky. He rarely tripped all over himself, but time and again, he simply hit the errant drive, approach or chip–or missed the critical putt–when those closest to him succeeded. Phil Mickelson finally winning the U.S. Open would be a bigger story for me than Westy winning the Claret Jug.

SENS: Tiger winning the green jacket. Ok. It might not be the greatest “feel-good” moment, but it sure would stir a lot of feelings, good and bad.

BAMBERGER: Phil winning a U.S. Open and completing the career grand slam. Erik Compton winning anywhere on Tour. Fluff guiding Tiger back to the winner’s circle. Ben Curtis and Todd Hamilton winning some kind of better-ball competition.

MORFIT: Phil winning the U.S. Open would beat Westy at the British.

SHIPNUCK: Tiger winning the Open.

MOHLER: Mickelson finally winning a U.S. Open would come close, but Westwood taking home a claret jug for his first and likely final major title (as at least a 42-year-old) would be a tough sentiment to top.

6. What one golf-related gift would you like this holiday season? No ask is too big!

RITTER: Are tee times at Augusta National in the Sears catalogue this year?

VAN SICKLE: I’d like to replace the golf cart with a golf hovercraft. Somebody get Marty McFly on the case, please.

PASSOV: What I really want most in golf is to witness one more big tournament where Tiger and Phil go head-to-head down the stretch. Since that won’t be happening over the holidays, I wouldn’t complain if someone gifted me a set of Bose SoundLink Around-Ear Wireless Headphones. Anything purely golf-related would have to start with a new right shoulder and we’ll take it from there.

SENS: A cure for the putting yips.

BAMBERGER: A new rule by which O.B. stakes would be painted red and played accordingly.

MORFIT: I’d like to see Tiger slim down, get really into yoga and or Pilates, and make a comeback, throwing a major scare into the New Big Three. Hey, it’s Christmas. If you can’t dream at Christmas…

SHIPNUCK: A membership at Cypress Point or Monterey Peninsula Country Club. But not both – I don’t want to be greedy.

MOHLER: A Full Swing Golf simulator in my NYC apartment, please. Or maybe just an apartment with enough room for one.

The Tour Confidential roundtable continues Monday on our new weekly show hosted by Jessica Marksbury. Tweet her your questions @Jess_Marksbury.