Pat Perez is everything I both love and hate about golf. As a chubby, mullet-sporting 41-year-old whose interests, according to his official PGA player profile, include “ATVs,” “motorcycles,” and “wine,” he is something of the sport’s real-life corollary to Kenny Powers. A 2017 Golf Magazine profile depicts Perez partying with aging rock stars, listening to rap music while playing practice rounds, and saying amazing things like, while explaining his relationship with his caddy, “I drink, he doesn’t. I smoke, he doesn’t. I spend money, he doesn’t. I cuss, he doesn't. I’m a motherfucker, he isn’t.” In October, he won the CIMB Classic in Malaysia while wearing a pair of Air Force One golf shoes, and his rolodex of sponsors includes the bro-tastic meme website The Chive, as well as the apparel brand William Murray Golf — a co-venture between The Chive itself and, you guessed it, Bill Murray. He is a testament to the sport's ability to stir hope in the hearts of ex-frat-bros now turned suburban dads everywhere, who believe that if they could just quit their day job down at the pharmaceutical research company and devote themselves to golf full-time, they, too, could make it in the big leagues.
The story of how Perez became one of the top golfers in the world is as fascinating as his current existence. He is a Mexican-American man with blue-collar roots, who as a teenager once beat a young Tiger Woods in a tournament while playing with hand-me-down clubs. While Woods went on to become arguably the greatest golfer of all time, Perez became a journeyman, knocking around the lower rungs of the PGA while developing a reputation as a guy who partied too much and, when the pressure was on, figured out a way to blow it. But a few years ago, something incredible happened: Perez hurt his shoulder, and was subsequently dropped by Callaway, his equipment sponsor. This made him so angry that, after years of searching in vain, he finally discovered his mojo and rocketed to the top of the PGA ranks. (Or, as he put it to Golf Magazine, “I loved those irons, but I couldn’t wait to put something else in the bag and then shove it up Callaway's ass.”)
If the PGA wants to stay relevant in the social media age, players like Perez may very well be its future.
Perez is a joy to watch play. His belly pokes out of his Willam Murray shirts as he follows through on his swing, and his mullet has a way of fluttering in the wind whenever he’s on the green, squaring up to an impossible putt that he more often than not makes anyway. Those putts have helped secure him perennial status as the oldest golfer on the leaderboard, and this season, he ranks among the PGA’s leaders in driving accuracy and greens hit in regulation, both of which have helped him score an average of nearly five birdies per eighteen holes.
As the writer Shane Ryan explored in his book Slaying the Tiger, the PGA began grooming a new generation of stars, following Tiger Woods’s decline into mediocrity, who could regularly notch crowd-pleasing long drives on the course, would be humble and boring off of it, and were, though the PGA dared not say it out loud, white. Perez is none of those things. Rather than treating golf like a refined game that the sport’s ruling class would like to pretend it is, Perez is an everyman, representative of the type of people who actually make up the majority of golfers these days: Working bros who flock to public courses on the weekends to drink beer, fuck around, and occasionally drive an errant shot — or, per the beer, a golf cart — into a tree.
Everything about Perez — his appearance, his demeanor, his affiliation with the Patient Zero of normie meme sites — makes him immensely popular on social media, where athletes who are just as likely to blow a crucial moment or say something insane as they are to pull a miracle out of their ass tend to develop cult followings. With all due respect to the European Tour professional Andrew “Beef” Johnston, Perez is the most eccentric, unpredictable, and dynamic golfer that the sport has — and if the PGA wants to stay relevant in the social media age, players like him may very well be its future.
Now comes the bad part. There is a thing about Pat Perez, which is that he thinks Donald Trump is extremely good. In Perez’s estimation, Donald Trump is “an incredible businessman,” according to comments he made to the New York Times last February, before adding that he'd hit the links with Trump, but not Hillary Clinton. While by all accounts, Donald Trump is incredibly bad at business, he has positioned himself as something of a patron within the world of high end-golf, buying floundering luxury courses during the housing crisis and imposing upon them his trademark mix of corner-cutting and chintzy shittiness in a way that helped keep them afloat long enough for the economy to bounce back — though it's debatable whether the twelve courses he's bought since 1997 have actually helped his golf business turn a profit.
But these are the types of courses that professional golf tournaments — key sources of free advertising, which in turn help attract new members and increase the value of already-expensive housing properties that line such courses — are held on, and Trump has aggressively pursued any and all tournament opportunities he can manage. In 2014, the PGA announced a “partnership” with the Trump Organization, in which a slew of high-profile golf tournaments — including the 2022 PGA Championship, which in a nightmare-universe scenario could literally occur while Donald Trump is still President — would be held at Trump’s clubs over the course of a decade.
This has all led up to a hard choice for the PGA: Do they fulfill their obligations to Trump, bolstering the President’s bottom line while strengthening an association with him from which they never recover? Or, do they pull their tournaments from his courses, weather a few tweetstorms, and cut their losses? As a rule, professional sports leagues are short-sighted and craven, so you will be unsurprised to learn that the PGA has decided to stick it out with Trump until the bitter end — last year, both the Senior PGA and LPGA tours held their pre-planned major tournaments at Trump's courses. “It’s unfortunate that the political world has kind of taken a turn on Donald,” Perez told Yahoo News shortly after the 2016 election. “He’s put a lot of money into the game, and then you have everybody saying, ‘We've gotta [pull the tournaments] because of his political outlooks.’ That's hard, because we don't have a lot of people in golf who will spend that kind of money to better their properties.”
Perez’s attitude is not his alone. According to an anonymous poll of PGA professionals conducted by Sports Illustrated and Golf.com, 88 percent of players polled said that they thought the PGA should not pull their tournaments from Trump courses, with one player offering, “Politics aside, they should secure the best possible venue.” But the PGA's insistence that they have to evaluate Donald Trump's golf courses — not to mention Trump himself — independently of his position as President shows that taking ostensibly apolitical stances can be in and of themselves deeply political acts, especially when the so-called “center” is itself moving rapidly towards the right. It’s the sort of wet-blanket position that might one day sink golf for good, especially as its fanbase ages rapidly. No amount of mullets or memes could change that.