President Trump awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to golfer Tiger Woods on Monday, saying it was his “privilege” to bestow the honor on “one of the greatest athletes in the history of sports.”
Calling Woods, who has been both a golfing and business partner of Trump’s, “a global symbol of American excellence, devotion and drive,” the president said, “Tiger’s determination and work ethic drove golf to new heights of athletic competition and popularity.”
In a rare evening event in the Rose Garden at the White House, Trump recounted Woods’s golfing career for more than 15 minutes to a crowd that included Cabinet secretaries, senators and top White House staff. Reading from a teleprompter, Trump recognized Woods’s family members and then mentioned his caddie, asking him to stand up for recognition.
Woods stood by as Trump narrated his most memorable golfing feats and physical challenges — not mentioning his personal struggles.
Those accomplishments included winning the 2019 Masters, his first major victory since 2008 and an achievement that resonated far beyond the world of sports. When mentioning this year’s Masters, Trump referred to the event’s strong TV ratings.
“Tiger is a successful entrepreneur, to put it mildly,” Trump said. He added that the 15-time major winner was also a “devoted philanthropist.”
“Your spectacular achievements on the golf course, your triumph over physical adversity and your relentless will to win, win, win — these qualities embody the American spirit of pushing boundaries, defying limits and always striving for greatness," Trump said.
Woods told the Rose Garden audience that his journey had been an “unbelievable experience.” He grew emotional while telling his mother he loved her and thanking his children, Sam and Charlie, for their support.
“You’ve seen the good and the bad, the highs and the lows, and I would not be in this position without all your help," he said.
Woods thanked his caddie, Joe LaCava, and he mentioned the three previous golfers to have been awarded the Medal of Freedom: Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Charlie Sifford. Woods said he named his son after Sifford, a two-time PGA Tour winner who was the first black man to play on golf’s top circuit.
After his remarks, Woods posed for pictures with his family and the Trumps before retreating to the Oval Office. The military band played “What a Wonderful World” as guests walked out of the Rose Garden.
Last month, Trump announced that Woods would be receiving the medal, one of the highest civilian honors, after Woods won the Masters, his fifth such title of his career. Trump tweeted the next day that he would bestow the honor on Woods because of “his incredible Success & Comeback in Sports (Golf) and, more importantly, LIFE.”
Woods and Trump are longtime business and golf partners, and Woods lives not far from Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Fla. The two have teed off together several times, including at Christmastime in 2016 and around Thanksgiving in 2017. Woods also golfed with the president and Nicklaus in early February, an event the president tweeted about later.
The Trump Organization notes on its website that Nicklaus, who endorsed Trump for president, and Woods have designed courses for the company. According to the website, a new Trump World Golf Club that is “coming soon” to Dubai is being designed by Woods.
Maintaining a friendship with this president has been tricky for some athletes, which New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady discovered when a “Make America Great Again” hat was seen in his locker in September 2015. Brady pointed out that he and Trump have been longtime friends and golfing partners but added that “it’s just a friendship.” When the Patriots visited the White House after winning the Super Bowl in 2017, Brady said he had preexisting plans and stayed away.
Woods, like Brady, has emphasized that his friendship with Trump predates the 2016 presidential election.
“We’ve played golf together. We’ve had dinner together. I’ve known him pre-presidency and obviously during his presidency,” Woods said last summer at the Northern Trust Open in New Jersey. Asked how he felt about Trump’s immigration policy, he diplomatically drew a line between the office and its occupant. “He’s the president of the United States. You have to respect the office,” he said. “No matter who is in the office, you may like, dislike personality or the politics, but we all must respect the office.”
That discretion earned praise from Trump, with the president tweeting: “The Fake News Media worked hard to get Tiger Woods to say something that he didn’t want to say. Tiger wouldn’t play the game — he is very smart. More importantly, he is playing great golf again!”
Indeed, Woods recovered from both personal issues and four back and knee surgeries to claim his 81st overall PGA Tour victory at the Masters. Trump had predicted over the winter that such a win was coming.
“Everyone is asking how Tiger played yesterday,” Trump tweeted after the round in early February. “The answer is Great! He was long, straight & putted fantastically well. He shot a 64. Tiger is back & will be winning Majors again! Not surprisingly, Jack also played really well. His putting is amazing! Jack & Tiger like each other.”
After Monday’s ceremony, Woods will continue readying for the second major of the season, next week’s PGA Championship. At 43, and coming off a number of surgeries on his knee and back, Woods is carefully managing the number of tournaments he enters and has kept a low profile since winning the Masters on April 14. “I don’t mind telling you I’m really sore,” he confessed immediately after that tournament.
His recovery is especially important because there is less time between the majors after the decision to move the PGA Championship from August to May, between April’s Masters and June’s U.S. Open. The PGA will take place at the Bethpage Black course on Long Island; Woods will play in a threesome with Brooks Koepka and Francesco Molinari for the first two days, keeping with the tradition of grouping the winners of the past three majors. Woods and Molinari were paired in the final group at the Masters and also played together at last year’s British Open, which Molinari won by two strokes.
Trump’s love of the sport is well known, but it’s also a business that has gotten him unwanted headlines.
Last week, The Post reported that undocumented workers at Trump National Golf Club Westchester in New York said they were sometimes told to work extra hours without pay. In January, The Post reported that about a dozen undocumented workers at the club were fired as the fight over the president’s demand for border wall funding led to a government shutdown.
The White House will host another sports-related celebration Thursday, when Trump is scheduled to welcome the World Series champion Boston Red Sox, who are in the area for a series with the Baltimore Orioles. Boston Manager Alex Cora announced in a written statement Sunday that he will not join the team, citing his discomfort amid the continuing Hurricane Maria relief efforts in his native Puerto Rico.
Read more from The Post: