“What are you doing here? You shouldn’t be here” – Tiger Woods, Donald Trump And Racism In Golf

“Every time I go to a major country club, I always feel it, always sense it. People always staring at you: ‘What are you doing here? You shouldn’t be here’”

Here, an already world-weary 14-year-old Tiger Woods ruminates on prejudice in his short golfing career. His responses mimic, perhaps frighteningly, the calculated media responses heard post-round or after a tournament during his golden years. The end of the interview is most telling, his highest sporting ambition – the Masters. Why?

“The way blacks have been treated there,” he says. “If I win that tournament, it will be really big for us.”

It was only in the 1970’s that black golf players began playing on the PGA Tour – Lee Elder broke the racial barrier in 1975 despite an onslaught of hatred and death threats. Almost all of the tour’s caddies during the decades up until the 1990’s were black, those employed in hospitality and maintenance roles in golf courses were almost entirely black. 

It could be said that Woods’s dead-eyed determination and relentless competitive drive may have been driven by racial discrimination and although he has always kept his political views cloaked in secrecy, he occasionally reflects on race relations candidly, much like his 14-year-old self.

In his recent book, Woods looked back upon unsavoury childhood memories: the rocks thrown at his family home in southern California and he told of how he could not buy a drink or change in the same locker rooms as friends in certain golf clubs.

Woods’s father Earl employed unorthodox tactics when attempting to construct his now famous fortitude; with racial oppression an ominous undertone. Earl would verbally abuse Tiger, often levelling him with racial slurs, including the n-word.

Woods’s silence during Trump’s ascendance or in the aftermath of any number of controversies was not deafening but doing nothing is sometimes more powerful than taking a stand.

In his first tournament in ten months, 14-time major-winner Woods surprised many with back-to-back rounds in the 60’s at the Hero World Challenge in Bahamas. This comeback was preluded by Woods playing 18 holes with Donald Trump at Trump’s National Golf Club in Jupiter, Florida.

Woods – who has been out of golf’s upper echelons for years and fell gracelessly from the spotlight – is surely aware of the manner in which Trump has stoked racial tensions, routinely playing a hate-filled tune to his unshakeably loyal base. In the past and throughout his distinguished sporting career, Woods has articulated the bigotry he faces with a shrewd media-trained aloofness, something moulded by his father, Earl.

Golf is historically a game for the upper-class elite, specifically white males, and merely his presence offended many. As Woods cantered effortlessly towards glory in the 1997 Masters, golfer Fuzzy Zoeller said of his efforts: “You pat him on the back and say congratulations and enjoy it and tell him not to serve fried chicken next year.”

In 2016, despite our worst fears, it was inconceivable that the so-called leader of the free-world would spend over 60 days in office playing golf – something Trump much maligned his predecessor for – which equates to Trump playing golf every five days.

We saw how he single-handedly tweeted his way into an blown-out spat with the NFL, his biggest gripe of the year, it seems, was NFL players kneeling down during the national anthem in protest at police brutality.

Sport and politics found themselves intertwined like never before in the US – basketballer Lebron James called Trump a ‘bum’ after Stephen Curry said he would not be visiting the White House in protest at the administration’s barefaced intolerance. Trump is a fan of sport but it appears as if sport does not share the same undying admiration.

Instead of beleaguering true enemies to American democracy – Russian election meddling, white-supremacists, corporate greed – he instead saved some of his most impassioned tweets for NFL players, thinly veiled racism packaged the kneel-down protests as anti-American and anti-troops. 

His refusal to immediately disavow white-supremacists in Charlottesville drew widespread criticism. Many of his cabinet picks and top advisers have histories of prejudice. Jeff Sessions was chosen as Trump’s attorney general. Dogged by racism throughout his career, this appointment, like many, was mired in controversy.

tiger woods

Martin Luther King’s wife Coretta Scott once wrote that he had “used the awesome powers of his office in a shabby attempt to intimidate and frighten elderly black voters”.

Woods is no Colin Kaepernick – an African-American who has overtly challenged institutional racism – but he doesn’t necessarily need to be, it’s not binary. What he needs to do in this case is nothing. A polite and courteous refusal to partake in a gross pageant, a farcical regime.

Showing no visible support for an immoral administration would draw few plaudits but it is less self-flagellating than following Trump around a golf course for a political publicity-stunt.

Although not complicit in undermining the American democratic process or responsible for emboldening the far-right and white-supremacist movements, no, Wood’s presence on Trump’s golf course is demoralising for those who oppose what Trumpism has come to stand for.

It’s likely Woods felt it was not his place to voice discontent with the actions and statements coming from Trump’s administration, that political denunciations are not his game. There are also inclinations that hosting Trump at a convention or playing a round of golf with him are innocuous. ‘It’s just a harmless game of golf’.

This is dangerous territory. By acquaintance, inadvertently or otherwise, you humanise the hatred he espouses and normalise his behaviour. Tiger Woods, like many before him, is allowing himself to be used as political capital, a photo-op that Trump can smile at, tweet about, twist to fit into his own distorted sense of reality.

The President has also attempted, to no avail, in dispelling the notion that he is racist, pointing out an African-American at one of his rallies.

“Look at my African-American over here. Look at him,” Trump continued. “Are you the greatest?”

But Trump’s loathsome and unadulterated persona is looking more and more like a man unhinged, mentally and emotionally, a character wholly devoid of principle. Woods legitimises much of his actions by association and it’s difficult to believe that Woods is blind to this.

It’s less about right vs left and glaringly less a partisan issue, Trump’s agenda – negating all legislative progress America’s first African-American made – divides and has further deepened and toxified the swamp he barked repeatedly that he would clean-out.

tiger woods

Woods’s infidelity was his fatal flaw. His courteous and dignified public personality was eventually revealed to be a facade, an act he kept up for years unknown to all, even his wife. He might have some sympathy for Trump’s veneers of pretence but they differ somewhat in that Trump has yet to apologise for any of his transgressions including many of the sexual harassment allegations still unaccounted for.

Most of Woods commercial connections disintegrated after his infamous downfall, appearing publicly as politically neutral is no longer something he can cling onto. Even Nike – his most loyal sponsor, historically apolitical like most multinational giants in the public sphere – condemned many of his decisions.

Refusing the invitation might have infuriated the narcissistic, Twitter-tweaking Trump but a an angry social media outburst is trivial collateral damage, if not publicity, for a public figure in 2017.

Simply refusing an invitation to a round of golf is not profound or helping charge a Trump resistance in itself, yet it shows at a minimum that Woods knows right from wrong.

Does Woods not feel uncomfortable in the presence of someone so unapologetically bigoted? Perhaps he’s grown tired and from years of disillusionment, it’s just another day on the greens.

Colin Gannon

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