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Trump awards Medal of Freedom to Sorenstam, Player, Zaharias

epa08814258 Gary Player of South Africa speaks to the media during the final practice round of the 2020 Masters Tournament at the Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia, USA, 11 November 2020. After being delayed seven months by the coronavirus pandemic, the 2020 Masters Tournament is being held without patrons 12 November through 15 November. EPA-EFE/TANNEN MAURY

Jan 7 (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump, facing calls for his removal from office, turned from controversy to ceremony on Thursday as he awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to golfers Annika Sorenstam, Gary Player and Babe Didrikson Zaharias.

With just 13 days left in his term, Trump gave the nation’s highest civilian honor to Sweden’s Sorenstam, a 10-times major champion, and South African Player, winner of nine major titles.

Receiving the honor posthumously was Zaharias, who also won 10 golf majors as well as two track & field gold medals at the 1932 Los Angeles Olympic Games and is regarded as one of the greatest American athletes of all time. She died in 1956 at the age of 45.

“Today, President Donald J. Trump awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom posthumously to Babe Zaharias. The President also presented the award to previously announced recipients Annika Sorenstam and Gary J. Player,” the White House said in a statement.

The trio join Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Charlie Sifford and Tiger Woods as the only golfers to receive the award.

Trump awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Woods last year after he won his fifth Masters title.

It was announced in March that Sorenstam, Player and Zaharias would be presented with the award but the ceremony was postponed due to the novel coronavirus outbreak.

Trump, who is an avid golfer and owns several course around the world, has played with both Sorenstam and Player.

The ceremony offered a brief distraction from the chaos that has engulfed the White House following events on Wednesday when Trump at a rally fired up his supporters to overturn the election result before a mob swarmed the Capitol.

(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto, Editing by Ed Osmond)

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