Trump was in his element as he hosted the LIV Golf Pro-Am with Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau


Most of the opening group were already in place by the time a motorcade of buggies whirred down the hill and nestled behind a grandstand.

Bryson DeChambeau had been waiting on the first tee for a few minutes. Dustin Johnson several more still.

It turns out tee times can be flexible when the course is yours. So, nearly 10 minutes late, Donald and Eric Trump clambered into view.

They were greeted only by the shutter of a few cameras – without fans, grandstands were left deserted and this pro-am became a low-key lift-off for an explosive partnership between Trump and the Saudi-backed LIV Golf.

But still the former President sniffed a PR opportunity.

‘Make America Great Again’ glared off his red cap as he greeted LIV chief Greg Norman and high-fived DJ.

‘Wow,’ he mouthed when his son struck his opening drive towards the fairway. After his own tee shot flew into the New Jersey sky, Trump turned towards the back of the small crowd, where daughter Ivanka and her husband – Jared Kushner – watched on with their family. They married in this Bedminster estate back in 2009.

‘I’m glad that’s over with,’ Trump said before wandering towards his buggy. He was early this time.

Former President Donald Trump teed off in the LIV Golf pro-am in Bedminster on Thursday

The 45th President arrived in a fleet of buggies with his stars-and-stripes golf bag on the back

The 45th President arrived in a fleet of buggies with his stars-and-stripes golf bag on the back

Trump kept his playing partners Dustin Johnson (right) and Bryson DeChambeau waiting

Trump kept his playing partners Dustin Johnson (right) and Bryson DeChambeau waiting

The former president had forgotten this was now a five-ball: Yasir Al-Rumayyan, the chairman of Newcastle United and governor of the Saudi Public Investment Fund bankrolling this rebel alliance, had yet to tee off.

It had come as little surprise that Trump chose to partner with DeChambeau and Johnson. They have been playing companions before and they are two of golf’s most high-profile defectors. After the PGA of America stripped this course of the 2022 PGA Championship – following the storming of the Capitol on January 6 – Trump’s partnership with LIV, a two-fingered salute to golf’s establishment, seemed almost inevitable.

The decision to place the former President alongside Al-Rumayyan, however, was a curious one.

Trump was joined by his son, Eric, as they clambered out of the buggy and onto the first tee

Trump was joined by his son, Eric, as they clambered out of the buggy and onto the first tee

Trump did not fail to sniff a PR opportunity and donned a 'Make America Great Again' gap

Trump did not fail to sniff a PR opportunity and donned a ‘Make America Great Again’ gap

c(centre), the chairman of Newcastle United and governor of the Saudi Public Investment Fund joined Trump's group expanding it to a five-ball

Yasir Al-Rumayyan (center), the chairman of Newcastle United and governor of the Saudi Public Investment Fund joined Trump’s group expanding it to a five-ball

Trump chats to 2020 US Open winner DeChambeau on the driving range prior to the round

Trump chats to 2020 US Open winner DeChambeau on the driving range prior to the round

Yes, both Trump and LIV relish flaunting their wealth and upsetting the apple cart. But there are less provocative ways to address accusations of sportswashing.

‘I’ve known these people for a long time in Saudi Arabia and they have been friends of mine,’ Trump said before the round. ‘They own big percentages of many, many American companies and frankly, what they are doing for golf is so great, what they are doing for the players is so great. The salaries are going to go way up.’

That much is true – over the next three days, the 48-player field will compete for a $25million purse. Last place will take home $120,000.

‘The PGA was not loved by a lot of the players, for a long time,’ he added. ‘Now they have an alternative and nobody ever would have known it was going to be a gold rush, like this.’

The decision to place the former President alongside Al-Rumayyan was a curious one.

The decision to place the former President alongside Al-Rumayyan was a curious one.

Trump appeared to relish the limelight despite facing criticism from families of 9/11 victims

Trump appeared to relish the limelight despite facing criticism from families of 9/11 victims

Trump will surely benefit from the publicity, too. Even if simmering criticism of this venture could come to the boil this week, with families of 9/11 victims preparing to picket the event, which takes place in the shadow of New York City.

‘Well, nobody’s gotten to the bottom of 9/11, unfortunately,’ Trump said. ‘They should have. As to the maniacs that did that horrible thing to our city, to our country, to the world, so nobody’s really been there.’

Later, as he headed off the first tee, Trump even hinted that he would run for the White House once more.

 ‘You’re going to be so happy. We’ll let you know pretty soon,’ he said before asking where the reporter was from. ‘They just did a story on me, beautiful,’ he said. ‘The first one in five years. Front page, tell them I appreciate it.’

The fleet of buggies carried clearer indications: Trump seat was adorned with the presidential seal. His son’s bag featured special stitching: ‘Trump 2024’.

Trump's buggy was adorned with the presidential seal on his seat and at the front of the cart

Trump’s buggy was adorned with the presidential seal on his seat and at the front of the cart

He appeared to hint to a reporter that he would run for the White House once more

He appeared to hint to a reporter that he would run for the White House once more

Soon, the 76-year-old had knocked a birdie putt close and picked up. Not that anyone complained. A gimmee is tame given Trump’s history on courses like this.

Caddies at Winged Foot are said to have nicknamed him ‘Pele’ for his habit for kicking his ball back into play.

At Bedminster, his name is all over honor boards as well as on the front gates.

According to Rick Reilly’s book, ‘Commander In Cheat’, Trump once sent his ball into a pond here, only for his trusty caddy to direct him towards one sitting in the fairway. ‘What did you do with your mask and flippers?’ one of the playing group shouted.

No such heckling on Thursday. NBA legend Charles Barkley and Caitlyn Jenner were among the groups behind Trump’s buggy, his stars-and-stripe bag, and his trailing party of armed police and the secret service.

On the second tee, after DeChambeau and Johnson took fairway woods, Trump asked big-hitting Bryson: ‘Since when do you hit with a three wood? Never seen that before’

Caitlyn Jenner (right) and NBA legend Charles Barkley were among the groups behind Trump's

Caitlyn Jenner (right) and NBA legend Charles Barkley were among the groups behind Trump’s

Trump questioned big-hitter DeChambeau's decision to take a fairway wood off the second tee

Trump questioned big-hitter DeChambeau’s decision to take a fairway wood off the second tee

‘I want to win this tournament,’ the 28-year-old replied before Trump took himself to a tee box closer to the hole.

Another good drive was followed by a smug shrug of the shoulders. Alas, with birdie beckoning once more, the 76-year-old sent his approach into the rough.

Off he went, whizzing up towards the green with his caddy riding on the back. Behind him, the group began to shout and whistle. Again, he had forgotten about Al-Rumayyan.

Trump whizzed around the course with his caddy riding on the back of his buggy

Trump whizzed around the course with his caddy riding on the back of his buggy

Trump forgot about Al-Rumayyan and had to reverse back for his playing partner's tee shot

Trump forgot about Al-Rumayyan and had to reverse back for his playing partner’s tee shot 

Trump reversed back down the fairway and cleared a path for his companion’s shot. By the 18th, however, Al-Rumayyan was nowhere to be seen.

Instead, Trump posed for pictures with DeChambeau and Johnson on the final green. And then sped off.

By Sunday night, who would bet against him having left the Saudis, this tournament and their golfers in his shadow once more?

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