JERSEY CITY, N.J. – The start of the Presidents Cup gave golf a new Big Three — former Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton posing with players and wives on each team in an opening ceremony unlike any other.
It was the first time three U.S. presidents have attended the matches together since this event began in 1994, named after the highest office in the land.
The U-shaped grandstands around the first tee at Liberty National were at capacity more than an hour before the first tee time Thursday. Most of the players were warming up on the range. Phil Mickelson, in the fifth and final match, came over early to clasp hands with all three.
Then, Mickelson took out his phone for a selfie he might not get again.
All presidents are invited to be the honorary chairman of the Presidents Cup when it is held in the United States, and all have accepted. Clinton has been the only sitting presidents to attend the matches, on Saturday at the Robert Trent Jones Golf Club in Virginia in 2000.
That might change. The PGA Tour was preparing for a visit by President Donald Trump on Sunday, though it has not been confirmed.
“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,” PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan said Wednesday. “I think it’s a great statement for our game.”
There was plenty of buzz on the first tee, especially when a platform behind the tee began to fill.
All three PGA Tour commissioners dating to 1974 were there — Monahan, Tim Finchem and Deane Beman. The loudest cheers were for Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player, who along with Arnold Palmer were the Big Three during one of the early growth periods in golf. Palmer died a year ago Monday.
And then the U.S. presidents filled the box.
Mickelson got his selfie, and before long other players and assistant captains filed over to see the presidents. They stepped out of the box to stand to the back of the tee as Charl Schwartzel of South Africa and Rickie Fowler hit the respective opening tee shots.
The presidents then went over to greet the wives of the International and U.S. teams and stayed behind for the rest of the matches to begin.