President Donald Trump’s decision to award Tiger Woods the Presidential Medal of Freedom does little to curb the ongoing criticism that he’s using his office to further his business interests. Though the golfer has attempted to downplay their connections, the two have been professionally entangled for years.
Trump is set to bestow the prestigious award upon Woods on Monday evening in honor of his Masters victory last month, reviving attention to the athlete’s friendly relationship with the president and golf course magnate.
It’s unusual for a president to give the award, widely considered to be the nation’s highest civilian honor, to a person only midway through their career. It’s even more unusual for a president to give the award to someone he’s in business with.
“I can’t think of something like this,” Kyle C. Kopko, a professor at Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania who authored a study on the award, told The New York Times on Sunday of Trump bestowing it on Woods.
Perhaps the biggest business partnership involves Woods designing a golf course for Trump’s Dubai property. The Trump World Golf Club Dubai was slated to open in late 2017, but it’s behind schedule.
A spokesman for Woods emphasized last year that Woods’ involvement is solely with the property developer, DAMAC Properties and that he “can’t put it any clearer that Tiger Woods Design does not have an agreement with Mr. Trump.”
Also in 2014, the golfer announced the Tiger Woods Charity Playoffs and revealed one of the regional qualifying games would be at the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey. Around the same time, Trump inaugurated the Tiger Woods Villa at the Trump National Doral in Florida.
Trump’s business with Woods has unfolded in more informal ways, too. While in office, the president has promoted his golf properties by proudly tweeting out when Woods is playing at one of them. Trump and Woods have also occasionally played golf together.
Trump has long faced criticism for not going far enough to separate his business dealings from his presidential duties, specifically for not divesting from his interests in the Trump Organization while he serves in office. The watchdog group Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington has identified more than 1,400 instances of “interactions between the government, those trying to influence it, and the Trump Organization, each resulting in a conflict of interest for President Trump.”
He may have also violated the Constitution’s foreign emoluments clause when foreign governments have paid to stay at Trump properties during his first two years in office.
Woods will be the fourth athlete to whom Trump has awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He has also given it to prominent Republicans, including major party donor Miriam Adelson and former Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, who holds the record as the longest-serving Republican in U.S. Senate history.