JERSEY CITY, N.J. — The Presidents Cup is living up to its name like never before. The three previous U.S. presidents will be on the first tee at Liberty National for the start of the matches Thursday, and the PGA Tour is bracing for a Sunday visit by President Donald Trump.
PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan said Trump’s people have been out to the course to take a "good, hard look at the property" and are working closely with the tournament’s security side.
It would be the first time a sitting president has attended the event since Bill Clinton was at the Robert Trent Jones Golf Club in Virginia in 2000.
"We hope he comes and he’ll be welcomed by us and by our players," Monahan said.
The Presidents Cup, matches between Americans and players from every other continent except Europe, began in 1994 and since 1998 has invited sitting heads of state from the host country as honorary chairman. Trump accepted his invitation, his first active role with the PGA Tour since a World Golf Championship moved away from Trump National Doral in Florida during the presidential campaign.
Monahan had said the reason for moving away from Doral was related to finding a title sponsor, not politics, and he doesn’t consider a Trump appearance at Liberty National anything but a golf event.
"We are not endorsing a person," Monahan said. "We are not endorsing a party."
He said "both sides of the aisles" will be represented Thursday with the appearance of Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, the first time three former presidents have been at the event. All served as honorary chairman of the Presidents Cup while in office.
"This event has never been a political event," Monahan said. "It’s been a golf event that united the world’s best players together, united fans all over the world in a team competition that has done and will continue to do a lot of goodwill."
Already this year, the PGA of America played its Senior PGA Championship at Trump National outside the nation’s capital, and the U.S. Golf Association held the U.S. Women’s Open at Trump National in Bedminster, New Jersey, where the president spends many weekends.
Monahan said he was not concerned about any criticism the tour or golf might get by Trump’s presence.
"We’ve always invited the president," he said. "And like I said, this is not a political statement that we’re making. It’s the Presidents Cup. He’s the president of the United States. You go back to 1994, what’s the incremental lift from the president’s involvement? I can’t tell you what that’s been in the past. That’s not what it’s about. It’s about uniting the game internationally and creating a forum for doing so."
The Presidents Cup, held across the New York Harbor from Manhattan, comes one week after widespread demonstrations during NFL games in response to Trump’s comments that players should stand for the playing of the national anthem or be fired. More than 200 players and owners found ways to show dissent by either kneeling, locking arms in solidarity or staying in the locker room during the anthem.
U.S. captain Steve Stricker said Tuesday that his 12 players and four assistants will stand together.
"I just wanted to know what they wanted to do and how we wanted to proceed as a team," he said. "So we were going to do what we always do, and that’s take off our hat and put our hands across our chest and over our heart and respect the flag. So that’s what we’re planning on doing."
Former South Korean President Park Guen-Hye was the honorary chairman two years ago in South Korea and spoke at the gala dinner on the eve of the matches. Previous heads of states to take part include South African President Thabo Mbeki, who appeared on stage with Nelson Mandela in 2003 at the opening ceremony at Fancourt.
Even without confirmation of a Trump appearance, Monahan relished the idea of three former presidents together on a golf course. One other time that happened was when Gerald Ford, George H.W. Bush and Clinton played the Bob Hope Classic in the same group with defending champion Scott Hoch.
"I get excited about the fact that three individuals ascended to the highest office in the land and golf was an important part of their life and continues to be an important part of their life," Monahan said.