Seth Waugh and the PGA of America showed more courage than many of the politicians in this country. Did more to defend our democracy, too.
It’s largely been forgotten, but this week’s PGA Championship at Southern Hills was originally supposed to be at Trump Bedminster. Four days after the Jan. 6 insurrection, however, the PGA voted to strip Bedminster of the majorsaying holding it at a course owned by Donald Trump could cause irreparable damage.
Little could they have known.
In the 16 months since then, Republican politicians and far-right pundits who know better but are too scared to run afoul of the former president have echoed his lies that the 2020 election was stolen. There is absolutely zero evidence to back up Trump’s claims; to the contrary, dozens upon dozens of recounts, investigations and court cases found no evidence of fraud or shadiness.
Because of Trump’s continued lies, and the spinelessness of the politicians who parrot them, a third of Americans still believe that President Joe Biden’s victory was not legitimate, with the number much higher among Republicans. Because of Trump’s insistence on fealty to that big lie, we have election deniers on the ballot for national, state and local races, representing an existential threat to our democracy.
So what does that have to do with the PGA Championship?
The PGA of America and Waugh, its CEO, know the political leanings of their members and the larger golfing community. They know many voted for Trump and, even if they did not believe his lies about the election, likely did not see the harm in them. They know many did not hold him responsible for the failed coup, which sought to circumvent the peaceful transfer of power for the first time in our country’s history.
They also knew that if they could just weather the initial wave of bad publicity, golf’s current audience would likely shrug at the idea of the PGA Championship remaining at a Trump-owned course. Would approve or at least laugh as they watched Trump use this week’s tournament as a platform to sow more doubt in our electoral process.
Waugh and the PGA of America knew all of this, and they moved the PGA Championship anyway.
“We find ourselves in a political situation not of our making,” Waugh told the Associated Press after the PGA of America’s Jan. 10, 2021, vote to strip Trump Bedminster of what would have been the first men’s major championship at a Trump-owned course.
“The damage could have been irreparable. The only real course of action was to leave. ”
There are times so dire they require us to set aside convenience and self-interest and act in the greater good. Our country faces one of those times now, and Waugh and the PGA of America met the challenge in a way so many others have not.
Just imagine if the PGA Championship were at Trump Bedminster this week. When the US Women’s Open was played there in 2017, the question of whether Trump would make an appearance overshadowed the lead-up to the tournament. When he did show up, all eyes were on him rather than the golfers.
And that was before he took a sledgehammer to the foundation of our democracy.
Now, with Pennsylvania’s Republican primary for the US Senate still unsettled and the midterms fast approaching, Trump would be wandering the grounds of Bedminster in search of any camera and reporter he could find, eager to spout one outlandish opinion after another. His delusions would be the dominant storyline of the week, rather than Stewart Cink turning back the clock, Bubba Watson making a run at the scoring record or Tiger Woods’ remarkable rally to make the weekend.
It would, as Waugh predicted, do irreparable damage, both to golf’s image and our country.
Instead, Trump is a sideshow at best, reduced to doing a rambling interview with Golf Digest’s Michael Bamberger in which he claimed he would not even watch this week’s tournament.
There’s a lesson in all of this.
Fears of being punished by Trump and his base have silenced many GOP politicians who, when the cameras and microphones are off, will admit there is no truth to the big lie. Yet Waugh and other PGA of America bigwigs have not been banished to the munis. Fans did not boycott the PGA Championship. Players showed up as they do for any other major, as did sponsors and broadcasters.
Waugh and the PGA of America chose country over expedience, and they’ve turned out fine. If only GOP politicians and pundits would do the same, we would not have to fear for our country’s survival.