c.2019 New York Times News Service
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Monday awarded Tiger Woods the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, in a Rose Garden ceremony in which both men described the golfer’s athletic triumphs set against painful personal lows.
“I’ve battled,” Woods, 43, said after the president fastened the medal around his neck. “I’ve tried to hang in there, and I’ve tried to come back and play the great game of golf again.”
The fight Woods described was what Trump seemed to admire most. He cited the golfer’s “relentless will to win, win, win,” in a speech that traced in detail Woods’ career from his being named the PGA Tour’s rookie of the year in 1996 to his against-the-odds comeback with last month’s win at the Masters.
“We can’t wait to see what’s next, Tiger,” Trump said to Woods, a normally sedate figure who spent Monday’s ceremony grinning ear to ear. “There are no winners like you.”
Woods’ Masters victory ended a nearly 11-year wait for his 15th major championship, during which he weathered a marital infidelity scandal that ended in divorce, a debilitating spine injury, an addiction to prescription painkillers and grave doubts about his athletic longevity.
Throughout the years, as the president reminded the Rose Garden audience, Trump has cheered him on, particularly as he got to know Woods and his family through his own love of the sport.
Trump and Woods have periodically played golf together, and Woods has agreed to design a course in Dubai as part of a luxury residential project managed by the Trump Organization.
Woods’ business ties with Trump have invited scrutiny as ethics watchdogs pointed out that the president was presenting the Medal of Freedom to a business partner.
“Tiger is a successful entrepreneur, to put it mildly,” Trump said.
The president’s son, Eric, who oversees the Trump Organization, was seated in the front row next to Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law.
The Rose Garden ceremony also publicly rewarded a prominent athlete whose relationship with the president stands in contrast to that of African American sports superstars like LeBron James and Stephen Curry who have staked out public stances against Trump. Some championship teams, or individual members, have declined to visit the White House for traditional title celebrations, particularly after the president called for sports teams to fire any player who joined in a growing protest of racial discrimination and police brutality by kneeling during the national anthem.
During Monday’s ceremony, Woods received a standing ovation and thanked the president for the honor before thanking his mother, Kultida, and his children, Sam and Charlie. Erica Herman, Woods’ girlfriend, and Joe LaCava, his longtime caddie, were also in the audience.
“This has been an unbelievable experience,” Woods told the group of family, friends and supporters, which included Trump and much of his Cabinet. “You’ve seen the good and the bad, the highs and the lows, and I would not be in this position without your help.”
Like other presidents, Trump has awarded the medal to people sure to please his political base: Miriam Adelson, the Las Vegas physician and prominent Republican donor, has also received the award, as has the retired Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah. But unlike his predecessors, Trump has been upfront about rewarding people he feels have enthusiastically supported him.
When awarding the medal to Hatch last year, Trump confirmed that reasoning: “He liked me from the very beginning, and therefore I like him,” adding, “I guess I’m not supposed to say it, but that’s the way life works, right?”
In the past, Woods has offered words of mild support when approached by reporters about his relationship with Trump.
“You have to respect the office,” Woods said when asked about it last August. “No matter who is in the office, you may like, dislike the personality or the politics, but we all must respect the office.”
When he was asked to further address the state of race relations in America, Woods declined, saying that he was “really hungry” after finishing 72 holes.
Trump praised the golfer’s response, admonishing the “fake news media” for what he said was an attempt to get Woods to speak badly about him.
“Tiger wouldn’t play the game,” Trump wrote on Twitter at the time. “He is very smart. More importantly, he is playing great golf again!”
Woods was the fourth athlete to receive the Medal of Freedom from Trump. He joined the late New York Yankees slugger Babe Ruth; Alan C. Page, a Hall of Fame defensive tackle who became the first black judge on Minnesota’s Supreme Court; and Roger Staubach, a Hall of Fame quarterback and a Vietnam veteran. As Woods noted during his Rose Garden speech, he is the fourth golfer to have received the honor, after Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Charlie Sifford. After the ceremony, Nicklaus congratulated Woods on Twitter.