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Tiger Woods, Trump and a perhaps counterintuitive political benefit

2019 Masters champion takes comeback story to White House to get Medal of Freedom

Professional golfer Tiger Woods speaks onstage during a Tiger Woods Foundation’s event in 2016 in New York City. President Trump will present him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom on Monday. (Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images file photo)
Professional golfer Tiger Woods speaks onstage during a Tiger Woods Foundation’s event in 2016 in New York City. President Trump will present him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom on Monday. (Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images file photo)

ANALYSIS — The crowd around the 18th green at Augusta National Golf Club — mostly men — roared when Tiger Woods tapped in his final putt last month to win his fifth Masters, his first major championship in 11 years. That victory nudged President Donald Trump to honor Woods, and perhaps counterintuitively tap into support from a voting bloc that has remained elusive to him.

About two minutes after Woods’ Green Jacket-clinching putt disappeared into the bright white cup, as he and his family jubilantly walked toward the clubhouse, the CBS cameras caught a woman in a yellow baseball cap reaching over the rope line to give the champion a high-five. Another woman in a white cap pumped her fist. Another in a lime-colored pullover returned Woods’ guttural, celebratory scream — mimicking his clenched fist raised in the air. One particularly excited woman in a pink top tried to turn a high-five with him into an embrace.

And they were far from alone in celebrating Woods’ comeback from injuries, major surgeries, short game problems and personal scandals (the latter including a DUI charge).

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After years of struggle, Woods is back and in the winners’ circle again. Trump, who has golfed with him since taking office, is a big fan, and will award him the Presidential Medal of Freedom on Monday. Ever the television executive producer, the former “Apprentice” host is holding the ceremony at 6 p.m. Eastern time, in early prime time.

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After all, women compose 35 percent of the PGA Tour’s fan base. That’s according to tour data that the organization touts to its big-money advertisers.

A presentation designed to attract new companies to advertise during PGA events points out in all capital letters that female golf fans are “a more valuable audience than other sports.”

Female PGA tour patrons are more likely than women watching the NFL, NBA or MLB to have an advanced academic degree and live in a household that makes over $200,000 a year, according to the presentation. What’s more, they are also more likely to hold a “top management position.”

The marketing document also makes the case that all PGA Tour fans, including women, are more likely to be wealthy. To that end, a U.S. Trust study from last year found high-income women were 6 percent more likely to donate to charities than wealthy men. And professional golf fans were 45 percent more likely to have given over $500 to a charity, according to the tour data, which was compiled by comScore, Inc.

Despite Woods’ messy divorce and revelations of extramarital affairs, some golf analysts say the man known around the globe simply as Tiger has rebuilt his image in the last half-decade with both genders.

“Most athletes who have scandals, [those] involve them cheating within their sport … to get ahead,” former golf pro Brandel Chamblee said on a recent podcast. “They’re career enders. They’re reputation-enders. Game over. … Most of the scandals that felt anywhere near to the one that Tiger Woods had involved politicians.”

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“They were elected to office based on character judgements,” added Chamblee, now an analyst for the Golf Channel. “To see [Woods] come back from scandal, from divorce, and then from injuries. … It’s the most amazing transformation, top-to-bottom, that you could ever hope see in sports amongst the athletes that are transcendent.”

Political points

Republican strategist Evan Siegfried doubts that Trump’s decision to place the Presidential Medal of Freedom around the often-troubled athlete’s neck was purely political. But he acknowledged that “it certainly won’t hurt the president.”

One major reason is the sport’s female fans, especially since “there’s no question the president is hurting among women.”

Recent polling makes that only too clear. For instance, a recent CNN survey showed Trump with only a 38 percent overall favorability rating among female voters. Sixty-one percent viewed him unfavorably overall. 

On specific issues, the poll found him bottoming out with just 34 percent of women approving of his handling of health care, race relations and foreign affairs. Thirty-sixty percent approved of his handling of immigration matters. Approval among female voters was higher on his handling of the economy (47 percent) and keeping his 2016 campaign promises (46 percent).

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“I do think the president is a fan, first, and he’s a golfer himself. He wasn’t rage-tweeting during the Masters; he seemed genuinely excited and told people to turn on the TV,” Siegfried said. “So, the event Monday might not have a lasting impact politically.

“That tweet was maybe the most human and relatable moment this president has ever had,” he added.

Trump’s fandom did show through in his tweets during Masters weekend, first on Saturday after Woods made a charge toward the top of the leaderboard, then on Sunday as he took control of the final round.

That was followed by a Monday tweet announcing that “because of his incredible Success & Comeback in Sports (Golf) and, more importantly, LIFE, I will be presenting him with the PRESIDENTIAL MEDAL OF FREEDOM!”

“The president gets to be a fan,” Siegfried said. “At the end of the day, good for Tiger and good for the president. It’s a great comeback story.”

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