This article originally appeared on the Fire Pit Collective, a Golf Digest content partner.
In the annals of golfing weirdness, here’s a double whammy for the ages: The PGA Championship will be played this week not where it was originally scheduled to be played and without its 51-year-old defending champion in the field.
Trump Bedminster, in tony, semi-rural central New Jersey? Out. Southern Hills Country Club, in the city limits of Tulsa, Okla.? In.
Phil Mickelson, the wildly popular winner of the 2021 PGA Championship? Out. Charl Schwartzel, ranked 134th in the world? In.
Playoff basketball thrives on chaos. The timeout play on the coach’s whiteboard falls apart before the ball is even inbounded. Golf’s thing is order. If you’re more than five minutes late for your tee time, you’re DQ’d. It’s in the rule book. Yet the PGA of America broke off from Trump Bedminster without even having a backup site secured, and Mickelson’s decision to sit out this week was announced only at 5 p.m. on the Friday before the tournament. And the news came from the PGA of America, not Phil.
Can somebody please find a grownup, an adult who can take control of the room, the game and all this madness?
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Donald Trump, whose name is attached to two dozen courses in the United States and other parts of the world, has spent 25 years trying to land a men’s major championship. Right now, there’s no sign that will ever happen. The R&A, to cite one organizing body Trump has been wooing for years, has made no public suggestion it will ever bring the British Open back to Turnberry, the stunning Scottish course now known as Trump Turnberry.
Tom Watson, who famously won an Open at Turnberry (1977) and famously did not (2009), has logged a number of rounds with Trump. Watson has a gig with the R&A as its “global ambassador for the Open.” The five-time Open champion has said that Turnberry, since becoming a Trump property in 2014, has never been better. The 2015 Women’s British Open, an LPGA and Ladies European Tour event, was played at Trump Turnberry to rave reviews. But the R&A lords appear to be unmoved. They’re not eager to see the Trump name engraved on their vaunted claret jug, alongside the winner’s name, the year of his win, his score – and the venue. It’s not the only thing, but it is a thing.
Trump, at 75, is the only golf entrepreneur to have been in business over the years with the LPGA, the USGA, the PGA Tour, the PGA of America — and now the new Saudi-financed LIV Golf series, Greg Norman presiding. Earlier this year, Norman announced a LIV tournament at Trump Bedminster for late July and later said the eighth and final tournament of its inaugural season will be at Trump Doral in late October. Those events won’t be on network TV. Not ideal for a course owner trying to sell memberships and tee times. But when it comes to attention for his courses, Trump has never been fussy. For years, with almost comical glee, he has been rolling out the red carpet for photographers, course raters and golf writers. Treat this guy very, very well – he’s huge in southern Michigan!
Phil Mickelson and Greg Norman interact during a practice round prior to the PIF Saudi International at Royal Greens Golf & Country Club on February 02, 2022 in Al Murooj, Saudi Arabia.
Luke Walker/WME IMG
As for the world’s second-most recognizable lefthanded golfer (Barack Obama is your clubhouse leader in that category), Mickelson sought a release from the PGA Tour to play in the first LIV event, in England in early June. The Tour denied his request, along with all such requests from other PGA Tour members. But we know how it goes with Phil. In other words, we know nothing. Maybe he’ll play the first event, and the seven to follow. Maybe he’ll stay in the Phil Mickelson Villa at Trump Doral. (It’s “ultra-deluxe,” per the Trump Doral website.) As for the LIV series, it offers something the PGA Tour does not: a guaranteed payday.
It was only a year ago that Mickelson, on a sundrenched Sunday in coastal South Carolina, made golf history by becoming the oldest player to win a major championship. He was 50, strong and sunburned and more focused than you could ever remember him. He was wearing mirrored sunglasses, a slender Rolex on a tight leather band, a baseball cap embroidered with KPMG and a shirt bearing the names of two other sponsors, Workday and Callaway. Fans swarmed him as he and his caddie/brother, Tim, came up the 18th fairway for the final time. It was as if golf had decided the pandemic was over.
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Bombs! Beer! The Ocean Course! Phil! His kid bro! Sunshine! A winner’s check for two mill! Fifty as the new 30! USA!
There’s a party going on right here.
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Fifteen years ago, I was writing a long piece about Trump and his XXL golfing life for Sports Illustrated. Trump and I were at his Tom Fazio course in Bedminster, N.J. “Phil Mickelson was just here, doing an exhibition,” Trump told me. This is from memory and memory is unreliable, but there’s something about Trump. He gets lodged in your head. “Phil didn’t get to play the course,” Trump said. “Vijay [Singh] has played it. He was just here. He loved it. But Phil called me afterward and said, ‘Mr. Trump, that is the best driving range I have ever seen.’ And, you know, he’s seen them all.”
Trump then called an assistant, hoping she could play the voicemail message Mickelson had left. She could not immediately produce it. Trump and Phil. A future president and a future Hall of Famer. Two showmen-salesmen who understood, and understand, the high and sparkly places golf can take a person.
In 2014, the PGA of America announced the 2022 PGA Championship would be at Trump Bedminster. Finally, Donald J. Trump could check off a box: a Trump golf course would be the venue for one of golf’s oldest and greatest championships. He had his major. One would lead to more. By New Year’s Day, 2021, only 16 months were left on Trump’s six-year wait. He was the president of the United States and he knew what was coming: white corporate tents on his sweeping Bedminster lawns, the game’s best golfers on his magnificent Bedminster course and his spectacular driving range and in his fabulous Bedminster clubhouse, the whole it on the former John DeLorean estate.
His dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it.
Jay Gatsby is the dreamer there, of course, standing outside his great estate on Long Island’s Gold Coast. DeLorean, the troubled automotive genius, had his own dream and his own estate, smack-dab in the middle of New Jersey horse country. Then came Trump.
You can imagine it, the Sunday night of the Trump PGA. May 22, 2022. A red Garden State dusk filling the spring sky. Warm air, sweetly humid. A half-moon rising, pale and milky. Donald and Melania with Phil and Amy. Or DJ and Paulina. Or Tiger and Erica. That is, Donald and Melania with the winner and the winner’s plus one. A champagne toast being offered, the Wanamaker Trophy on a nearby stone wall, Trump’s flute never reaching his lips.
And now Trump is holding court, reminding his audience that Jordan Spieth had stood in that very place, as the winner of the 2009 USGA junior title, right here, at Trump Bedminster. “They say the best courses produce the best winners,” Trump tells his listeners. They’re hanging on his every word, of course. He owns the place. Plus, he was the 45th president of the United States.
Trump squeezes the new champ’s left shoulder with his right hand and looks at him, man to man, winner to winner. They’re all winners, of course. It’s a requirement for admission.
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We must interrupt this reverie, unfortunately. Here comes real life, rearing its ugly head.
We all know the date: Jan. 6, 2021, the nightmare unfolding in real time on millions of phones and TVs and laptops. Can you imagine what it was like to be there? The deadly Capitol riots, a bloody kick in the teeth to a fundamental American principle, the peaceful and orderly transfer of power.
Viewed that way, maybe it’s only fitting that a sitting president’s golf dream died that day, too. A golf tournament. Oh, please. That’s your collateral damage? It’s almost charming, in its banality. A golf tournament. South of meaningless to most of the world’s population. But hugely meaningful to those of us with tentacles in the game.
The next day, the sun arrived right on schedule. Jan. 7 was uncommonly warm and still in Washington, D.C. A cloudless winter day. A Thursday. The streets in the vicinity of the White House were eerily quiet and empty. Annika Sorenstam and Gary Player arrived at the East Room of the White House to accept the Presidential Medal of Freedom on its long-scheduled date. There was a 15-second standing ovation for President Trump, led by Sorenstam, after she thanked him for his leadership in Operation Warp Speed, the public-private vaccination partnership launched to combat the pandemic. They had played together years earlier, when Annika was in her prime and the LPGA had a season-ending event at the Trump course in West Palm Beach, with a $1 million first-place prize. While in office, President Trump and the Swedish golfer had played once. There was a history there.
President Trump, departing from his prepared remarks, noted in an aside to Player that two of the House members from Texas who were on hand, both major Trump supporters, were “warriors.” Aside from that, there was no reference to anything political, veiled or otherwise. Trump spoke comfortably and easily about a subject he knows well, golf and golfers. If you were one of the guests in the room, it might have seemed like another day in the life of the White House and its primary occupant. Jan. 6 might as well have not happened.
Seth Waugh, the CEO of the PGA of America, was in North Palm Beach, Fla., where he lives in a gated community with his wife, Jane, and (at times during the pandemic) their five grown children. The PGA headquarters is nearby, in Palm Beach Gardens. In a previous life, Waugh had been the CEO of Deutsche Bank, which had loaned Trump $425 million, though not under Waugh’s watch. He saw the events of Jan. 6 as millions of others did, unfolding in real time, on a screen. “I watched it with overwhelming sadness, thinking how many people have died protecting the peaceful transfer of power,” he told me. “I felt revulsion, sadness, outrage, a bit of anger. I thought, This is a tragic moment for our way of life.”
Former US President Donald Trump walks to Marine One after golfing at Trump National Golf Club on November 27, 2020 in Sterling, Virginia. President Trump heads to Camp David for the weekend after playing golf.
Waugh has known Trump for 30 years. “I think I understand the good and the bad there,” Waugh said. When Trump played in the Deutsche Bank Championship pro-am, part of the Tour’s annual visit to Boston, Waugh was his host. When Waugh became the PGA’s CEO in 2018, the venue for the 2022 PGA Championship had already been selected. Trump would be the host. That was the plan. The dates were on the calendar. But now Waugh had a problem and Trump was at the heart of it. The 2022 PGA Championship, Waugh knew on instinct alone, would become something other than a golf tournament. It would be all about Donald Trump, Jan. 6 and the American divide.
When the PGA Tour went to Trump Doral, in the years that Cadillac was the title sponsor of the tournament there, the automobile manufacturer found it hard to share the spotlight with Trump, who would come and go not in a Cadillac SUV but a Sikorsky helicopter. At the 2009 U.S. Open at Bethpage Black, the USGA did not allow private cars within a mile of the clubhouse, but Trump drove his Rolls right up to the front door. How did he do it? Who knows? But he did. And now he was going to host your marquee event?
This makes it sound like a no-brainer. It wasn’t. Trump, even as a massively polarizing figure, most likely would be good for the TV rating for the ’22 PGA Championship. (Professional golf is addicted to TV ratings and the money those ratings bring.) Plus, Waugh and the PGA of America board knew its membership, broadly speaking, liked the man. For starters, he was hiring golf people. He was a golfer and was bullish on golf. He had been working the crowd – the 29,000 men and women of the PGA of America, the overwhelming majority of them white men over 30 – for years.
At the PGA’s 2014 annual meeting in Indianapolis, where he was the keynote speaker, Trump, a noted germaphobe, pressed flesh like a mayor at a parade. Hundreds of golf people, from assistant pros to Dustin Johnson, had experienced Trump’s intensely personal and open manner. On various courses and in various clubhouses, he would talk about Mike Tyson and Robin Givens, Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky, Natalie Gulbis and Ben Roethlisberger. But all the while, what he was really talking about was you.
Maybe you recall the name Ted Bishop, a course owner from Franklin, Ind., and a former activist president of the PGA of America. Bishop knows first-hand what it’s like to be squarely in Trump’s sights. Bishop once told Trump how much he enjoyed the pre-round hot dog he ate at the Bedminster course. Soon after, a box of uncooked hot dogs on dry ice showed up at Bishop’s pro shop. Bishop is a lifelong Democrat. But he voted for Trump not once but twice.
Bishop got to know Trump through Pete Bevacqua, a trained lawyer who is now the chairman of the NBC Sports Group. But back then he was a former USGA executive who had become the CEO of the PGA late in 2012. He succeeded Joe Steranka, who advised the PGA board not to bring its events to Trump courses, in part because he didn’t want the PGA to play second fiddle to Trump. But Bevacqua had other ideas.
The USGA’s experience working with Trump had been largely positive. The charm offensive was on a two-way street. Mike Davis, the USGA lifer who was chosen as the USGA executive director in 2011, had become an informal golf adviser to Trump. Bevacqua saw all this. He and Davis had been on the same team. Now they were not.
The USGA and the PGA of America compete — for courses and regions and dates. When Bevacqua became the PGA’s CEO, he quickly signed deals for the 2018 Senior PGA at the Trump course in northern Virginia and the 2022 PGA Championship at Trump Bedminster. The deals were announced and Trump posed for pictures, standing between Bevacqua and Bishop, then the PGA’s president, two old and shiny silver trophies flanking them.
When Waugh came in, he knew the deal. The Trump PGA was on the horizon. They’d all get through it. It might even go well. To the PGA of America, Trump was good for golf. That was the corporate line.
“On Jan. 5, we were going to Bedminster,” Waugh said in a recent interview.
The 2022 PGA Championship, at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J., on the former John DeLorean estate.
“Then, obviously, a lot changed.”
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It was never going to be easy. By some means, through representatives or otherwise, Waugh knew he’d be telling a sitting president, an impatient man who had been lobbying for decades for a Grand Slam event, that he would not be hosting the 2022 PGA Championship.
The PGA of America was voiding a contract, and that’s never easy. Trump – Trump Golf, that is – would have to be paid, and that would cost millions. It was not as if the PGA had an insurance policy that covered moving the tournament on account of a deadly riot that a sitting president promoted (some would argue) and did almost nothing to stop.
Trump is tricky. He’s motivated by money, as most of us are, but also, and incalculably so, by his pursuit of status. His foray into golf may or may not be making him money. That would take forensic accounting to answer. But most any observer could tell you it’s bringing him status.
In the 1970s and ’80s and ’90s, Trump was a splashy figure in New York and South Florida real estate. He was also showing up regularly in the gossip columns of the New York tabloids. That combination — loud real-estate deals and bold-face newspaper appearances — almost assured he would never be courted by golf’s elites at places such as Shinnecock Hills on Long Island and Seminole near North Palm Beach. Trump got into Winged Foot and was proud of his membership there, but the club is not a hoity-toity, pinkie-out-at-tea place. It’s a club, to some significant degree, for the self-made, for builders of every sort. It’s not a club stuffed with American elites. It wasn’t giving Trump all that he wanted. Winged Foot was a lot of things to Trump, but it wasn’t royal. He was a rich member, alongside many others.
Donald Trump shakes hands with Phil Mickelson during the third round of the U.S. PGA Championship at the Whistling Straits Golf Course on August 14, 2004 in Kohler, Wisconsin.
Then Trump started developing golf clubs with his name on them. Eventually, and tellingly, Trump added a family shield to the décor of his clubs, borrowing liberally from another family’s coat of arms. (Trump cut the word INTEGRITY from the bottom of the shield and replaced it with TRUMP. He doesn’t get enough credit for being funny.) Trump would valet his Rolls at his clubhouses in West Palm Beach and Bedminster and suburban New York, walk through a massive front door held open for him and proceed to his throne while somehow holding on to his inimitable everyman style. But everybody knew: Trump was king and he liked being king. The members of the various Trump clubs were not mocking his Queens accent and his long ties and his many club-championship titles, despite their questionable provenance. Not at all. If anything, they wanted to be him.
To stay king, Trump knew he needed events. Top amateur and professional tournaments, Ryder Cups. But nothing would bring him stature like hosting majors. They would deliver massive network exposure, glowing write-ups in The New York Times and luscious photo spreads in Sports Illustrated. The U.S. Open was at the top of his list. The 2009 USGA Juniors at Bedminster, for boys and girls, had been a success. Trump had set up a carnival for the kids and their families! He was ready for more. The USGA, maybe, was, too.
Then came a 2011 dinner at Jean-Georges, a stylish Manhattan restaurant favored by Trump. He was there along with one of his real-estate executives. A small coterie of USGA officials was at the table, there to deliver news Trump didn’t want to hear: Trump Bedminster would not be getting a U.S. Open. It just wasn’t a U.S. Open course.
The evening’s entrees had not yet even been described. Trump sat in his chair, silent, arms crossed. The moment seemed to last forever.
But, the USGA gents told Trump, there was also good news: They did like Bedminster for the 2018 U.S. Women’s Open.
“Bring the menus!” Trump called out to a server.
He told the men at the table, “When I get the contract, I’m just gonna scratch out women’s.”
Four years later, Trump announced he was running for president and kicked off his candidacy with degrading comments about Mexican immigrants. (“They’re bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime. They’re rapists and some, I assume, are good people. But I speak to border guards and they’re telling us what we’re getting.”) Now the USGA leadership wanted to move the 2018 U.S. Women’s Open away from Trump’s Bedminster course. (His grab-‘em-by-the-pussy comments not yet become public.) Two USGA men drew the assignment from the board, to go to Bedminster and see if Trump could be persuaded to walk away from the Women’s Open. Trump, then a long-shot candidate for the presidency, quickly made it clear that would never happen. “I’ve got a fucking contract,” he said.
Trump, of course, also had a contract for the 2022 PGA Championship. Seth Waugh knew that all too well.
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The day after the Capitol Hill riots, the Thursday morning that Annika Sorenstam and Gary Player and Donald Trump were in the East Room of the White House, Waugh met with the PGA of America’s senior staff and its board members. They had to consider various constituencies, including advertisers, paying fans, TV viewers, broadcast partners, corporate sponsors — and the 29,000 men and women of the PGA of America. By Friday afternoon, they had made a decision. The 2022 PGA would not be played at Trump Bedminster. They didn’t know where it would be played, but it would not be there.
“Everybody wants to make this a political move, but we got put into a political place that was not of our own making,” Waugh said in an interview. “My feeling was we could do existential damage to our brand by staying at Bedminster. If we stayed, the 2022 PGA would be about its ownership. People would think we were making a statement by staying there. I felt like we could do permanent damage to the brand if we stayed. As did the board.”
On the evening of Sunday, Jan. 10, the PGA of America put out a one-sentence statement above the name of its president, Jim Richerson, the general manager of Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles: “The PGA of America Board of Directors voted tonight to exercise the right to terminate the agreement to play the 2022 PGA Championship at Trump Bedminster.”
The vote was unanimous, as these votes tend to be, at least by the time their outcomes become public.
In the meantime, the PGA of America brass put out an APB to certain clubs.
WANTED: golf club to host 2022 PGA Championship.
Valhalla, the Jack Nicklaus course in Louisville, Ky., on the docket for the 2024 PGA Championship, was an early consideration. For one thing, the PGA of America owns Valhalla, which would make every last issue easier to navigate and make the event more profitable. (And this was a period when the PGA was already having to buy out Trump.) Congressional, site of a future Ryder Cup, PGA Championship and other PGA of America events, was also considered, though its location, 20 miles from Capitol Hill, was not a selling point.
And then there was Southern Hills, in Tulsa, with its elegant Perry Maxwell course recently renovated by Gil Hanse and its rich history for hosting major events, seven in all. Waugh had visited in 2019, toured the course, stayed in one of the elegant downtown boutique hotels – yep, modern Tulsa! – and was impressed with it. The 2021 Senior PGA Championship would be held there in six months. A lot of things and people and relationships were already in place.
By Sunday night, Waugh and his colleagues received an impassioned letter, by email, from the club: Southern Hills, which hadn’t hosted a major since Tiger Woods won the 2007 PGA, was ready, willing and able. In the sprawling club’s cozier confines, the leadership had a cheekier way of expressing the same idea: “We’re major-horny.”
It didn’t hurt that Oklahoma has 77 counties and all 77 went for Trump in the 2020 election. More significantly, the club had dozens of corporate sponsors on board for the Senior PGA, and most of them wanted to stay with the senior event and sign up for the PGA Championship as well, for more money. Always follow the money in these matters. Keeping tabs on what people will do to seek status – and a good time – is also useful.
On Jan. 25, 2021, the PGA of America announced, in three sentences and on Twitter, that the 2022 PGA Championship would be played at Southern Hills for the fifth time. There was, of course, no mention of Trump Bedminster.
Eleven months later, on Dec. 28, after the settlement of its dispute with Trump Golf, the PGA of America issued this statement, with a passive and oddly placed first sentence only a team of competing lawyers and PR specialists could endorse: “The Trump Organization’s contribution to the golf community is appreciated. We are thankful the company employs hundreds of dedicated PGA professionals and consistently gives back to the golf community through hosting charitable events and sponsoring junior golf programs. As stated in 2014 when announced, Trump Bedminster is a major championship-worthy golf course and in a portfolio along with some of the finest private and public golf courses anywhere in the world.”
That had to be one of the weirdest public breakup letters ever. Yet it accomplished what Trump wanted. It kept hope alive.
But could a PGA Championship someday be played on a golf course with the Trump name on the welcome sign? Maybe, but don’t hold your breath. Especially when you consider that Trump Golf has a new best friend, the LIV Golf series. It may not be high-status, but the money is good. Phil Mickelson might find the same.
Fitzgerald invented Gatsby from what he saw with his own two eyes. His Jazz Era contemporary, T.S. Eliot, concluded “The Hollow Men” with what he felt:
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.
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Jack Nicklaus. Paging Jack Nicklaus. Please come to the mediation desk next to the 1st tee for an emergency meeting of the Committee to Restore Sanity to Professional Golf Committee.
Jack Nicklaus is 82. He doesn’t get around as he once did but his thinking, as ever, is clear. In his day, in his playing prime and beyond it, Nicklaus won 18 Grand Slam titles, including five PGA Championships. He is the host of the Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village, with its nods to Augusta National and the Masters and Bobby Jones. He’s the de facto host of the Honda Classic, the longstanding PGA Tour event played on one of his many courses, this one near his South Florida home. (The Honda event raises money for charities dear to Nicklaus and his wife, Barbara.) Nicklaus knows all the players. Seth Waugh. Donald Trump. Phil Mickelson. Jay Monahan of the PGA Tour and Fred Ridley of Augusta National. Tiger Woods. The Saudi royals. Greg Norman. The whole gang.
In February, on the eve of the Honda Classic pro-am, Nicklaus attended a dinner for maybe 250 people at the PGA National Resort, where the tournament is played. The PGA of America headquarters is in the same development. It was a Tuesday night dinner for sponsors and participants of the Honda Classic pro-am. Dinners like this one are the lifeblood of the PGA Tour. Nicklaus has been to a thousand of them over the past 50 or 60 years. He knows the drill and his role. He’s still Jack Nicklaus.
He and Jimmy Roberts, the veteran NBC Sports reporter, did a Q&A session on a small stage in the ballroom. Nicklaus, in these settings, is almost exactly as he is in a pressroom interview or over a meal with friends. He’s truthful and direct. He has the courage of his convictions. Nicklaus talked about LIV Golf. Maggie Haberman, a political reporter for The New York Times, tweeted out a snippet from it, which in itself tells you something about the state of the game. Along with a video clip, she typed these words: “Nicklaus not sounding too enamored with the proposed breakaway Saudi golf league in this clip from an event earlier today, shared by a source. (Nicklaus a Trump friend).”
In the clip, Roberts mentions Mickelson’s interest in the LIV series.
“He should go then,” Nicklaus says. He has already made known his lack of interest in the new league.
Roberts then notes several players who had recently pledged their loyalty to the PGA Tour and says, “Apparently, if [Phil] does [go], he’ll be going alone.”
“He’ll have a great tour,” Nicklaus says.
You can hear the laughter of a couple hundred well-fed guests, most of them men. Beneath the laughter, you can almost hear another message: People don’t like change and they don’t like the naked desire for more. Among American golfers, that’s even more true. Golfers are tribal that way. Arnold Palmer never thought he was bigger than the game. It was the ultimate secret to his success.
Now here we are, heading into a PGA Championship being held at a 12th-hour (pretty much) venue and without its defending champion in the field. You could ascribe the course change, ultimately, to lawlessness. Had those Jan. 6 protests been peaceful, this 104th PGA Championship would have been played at Trump National in Bedminster, N.J. You could ascribe Mickelson’s decision not to play this week, ultimately, to his lust for more and his displeasure with the status quo. Alan Shipnuck (a friend and colleague) was the messenger. He revealed to us a side of Mickelson we didn’t know, not really. We knew he was restless. We didn’t know how restless. Phil Mickelson wanted more and more. You could say the same of Donald Trump. Two men with insatiable appetites. A stomach ache is inevitable. The real problems go far deeper than that.
Phil Mickelson celebrates on the 18th green after winning the 2021 PGA Championship held at the Ocean Course of Kiawah Island Golf Resort on May 23, 2021 in Kiawah Island, South Carolina.
You could say this of Mickelson and you could say this of Trump: They both have acted bigger than the systems (the PGA Tour, American democracy) that made them. There’s something deeply off-putting about that.
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I called Nicklaus. I asked him about Mickelson. He’s fond of Phil. He sees him almost every April at the Champions Dinner at Augusta National. Mickelson has played in the Memorial 20 times. Because of her easy warmth, Mickelson’s wife, Amy, is sometimes described as her generation’s Barbara Nicklaus.
“My advice to Phil? My advice to Phil would be to be patient,” Nicklaus said. “The world is a very forgiving place. But he’s the one he has to decide where he wants to play and what he wants to do.”
Nicklaus has done architecture work for Trump. I asked if Trump had said anything about the tournament being moved away from Trump Bedminster.
“He hasn’t said a word about it,” Nicklaus said. “Not to me.”
I asked Nicklaus for his opinion of the PGA of America’s decision to move the PGA.
“I like Seth Waugh,” Nicklaus said. “Seth didn’t need this job. He took the job because he thought he could give the PGA of America some good guidance. And I think he’s doing that. But this move is cancel culture. Donald Trump may be a lot of things, but he loves golf and he loves this country. He’s a student of the game and a formidable figure in the game. What he does in the future in golf will depend on what the cancel culture will allow him to do.”
Just so you have it, here’s the first sentence from the Wikipedia entry for cancel culture: “Cancel culture or call-out culture is a contemporary phrase used to refer to a form of ostracism in which someone is thrust out of social or professional circles — whether it be online, on social media or in person.”
Some would say Trump tried to cancel the result of the 2020 election, setting in motion the wheels that ultimately moved the 2022 PGA Championship from Bedminster to Tulsa. Some would dismiss that idea. These are polarizing times.
Nicklaus came of age in a different time and place. Mid-century and mid-country, for starters. Civility is a core value in Nicklaus’s golfing life and his everyday life. He, along with Arnold Palmer, Gardner Dickinson, Bob Goalby, Doug Ford and others, started the modern PGA Tour. That was in 1968, when the touring pros broke off from the club pros at the PGA of America. The touring pros wanted more money and more freedom, the very things Mickelson is seeking. But the tone was different then. The lines were not so stark. There was always an adult in the room, somebody with perspective, somebody who could say that more is sometimes less. Somebody who could keep the peace.
“I was offered something in excess of $100 million by the Saudis, to do the job probably similar to the one that Greg [Norman] is doing,” Nicklaus said. “I turned it down. Once verbally, once in writing. I said, ‘Guys, I have to stay with the PGA Tour. I helped start the PGA Tour.’”
Loyalty. Gratitude. Contentment. Pass it on.
The tour on which Nicklaus competed reflected the values on which he was raised: community, charity, open and fair competition, grace in victory and defeat.
Something changed. Something changed, and here we are.
Michael Bamberger welcomes your comments at Bamberger@firepitcollective.com