Washignton: During his illustrious career, Tiger Woods has treated politics as he would a menacing sandtrap — avoiding it if at all possible. He has hit the links in bipartisan fashion, teeing off with Democrats Bill Clinton and Barack Obama and Republicans George H.W. Bush and Donald Trump. A black superstar in a white-dominated sport, Woods has also generally avoided commenting about race relations in the United States.
But on Monday, Woods will find himself on the biggest political stage there is, the White House. And he will be the guest of honor of a president seen by many Americans as racially polarising. Trump, an avid golfer and the owner of several golf courses, is to present the 43-year-old Woods with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor. Though the outspoken Republican has been engaged in a bitter feud with black NBA stars and American football players, he has never expressed anything but unbridled admiration for Woods.
He spoke to Woods, whose father was black and whose mother is of Thai origin, following his epic Masters victory last month and extended his congratulations. Trump tweeted that he was honoring Woods “because of his incredible Success & Comeback in Sports (Golf) and more importantly, LIFE.” Once upon a time, White House visits by title-winning sports teams were routine, but several franchises, including the NBA champion Golden State Warriors — have opted out under Trump to protest his policies.
Woods is not expected to make any such waves. Rather than endorsing politicians or decrying racial injustice, Woods has always just let his golf game do the talking. “People wanted to imagine that Tiger was a social activist, a fighter for racial justice,” said Orin Starn, a professor of history and cultural anthropology at Duke University. Woods has played golf with Trump on several occasions, both before and after he took office, most recently in February at the president’s course in Jupiter, Florida.
Established by John F. Kennedy in 1963, the Presidential Medal of Freedom is bestowed upon those who have made an “especially meritorious” contribution to US security or national interests, world peace, cultural pursuits or other non-specified endeavors. Obama gave the medal in 2014 to Charlie Sifford, the first African American golfer to play on the PGA Tour.