BEDMINSTER, N.J. — The largest crowds on the course gathered near the 15th green, no matter which golfers were going through. Truth is, almost no one in the gallery was watching the golf. Most of the people, in fact, had their backs to the play so they could get a good view of the man in a nearby skybox. For the third round of the U.S. Women’s Open, the place was Trump National in more than name only.
President Donald Trump owned the attention as well as the course, drawing notice even from the players as they passed. Cristie Kerr, who is friendly with the chief executive, was among several who was invited up to the enclosure in which he spent about four hours. So, what does a golf pro say to the commander in chief?
“We’ll just talk, I guess,” she said during a news conference before her meeting. “I’m not going to talk politics, I can tell you that.”
The world’s best women golfers have studiously avoided political talk all week and before the tournament were reluctant to say anything at all about Trump. But they did not seem to mind sharing the spotlight, or ceding it altogether, yesterday. “This is his golf course,” said Lexi Thompson, who visited the skybox with her mother after the round. “It’s cool to have the President of the United States. I’m just out here playing golf, playing the U.S. Women’s Open.”
It is the premier event in women’s golf, as Trump acknowledged in a tweet Friday. Still, the course owner was the central figure on the property. The most dramatic President-related moment occurred when a small plane ventured into the airspace and was quickly escorted away by a fighter jet and helicopter. “Kind of cool to see. It wasn’t distracting,” said Kerr, who was on the 11th hole at the time.
Critics and supporters of the President demonstrated a few miles away, but there were no discernible protests on the course. Mostly, people kept waving toward Trump and taking pictures of him with their smartphones. They cheered when he arrived in blue blazer and red cap, yelling, “How are the scores?” They cheered some more when he left at about 6:20 p.m.
The mood generally was reflected by the boy who said after taking a photo, “Now I can tell my friends I saw the President of the United States,” although there were some others who were shared the view of a woman volunteer who walked past the skybox and said, “Who cares?”
In any way, shape or form, it was not your average day on the LPGA circuit. Some of the pros said that Trump’s attendance — the first ever at a women’s Open by a sitting President — raised the national awareness of their championship.
Considering the way the final round sets up for Sunday, the golf was noteworthy in its own right. Shanshan Feng of China maintained the lead for a third consecutive day. She made 17 pars in a row and ended with a birdie 4 on No. 18 (after Trump had left) for a 71 to go 9 under for the tournament.
Hye-Jin Choi, a 17-year-old amateur from South Korea, is only one shot behind after having shot 70. She is tied with countrywoman Amy Yang, a three-time winner on the LPGA tour and two-time runner-up in the U.S. Women’s Open.
The closest American to the top is Kerr, who had seemed on the verge of withdrawing Friday because of a back injury. Instead, she shot 70 and is tied for eighth at 4 under. She said incurred spasms “probably from picking up my son or my golf bag . . . Any other tournament in the world, you would think about going home. But not this one.”
She had a bounce in her step as she ascended the stairs to Trump’s box. “He’s a huge supporter of women’s golf and it’s just fun, just going, ‘I know the President,’ ” she said.
But his mark on this tournament remains complicated and controversial. UltraViolet, a women’s rights group, announced that it is organizing a protest nearby today.
And Lizette Salas, who has gone on the record criticizing Trump, said she did not look toward him when she played No. 15. The daughter of Mexican immigrants, Salas had tweeted her disappointment the day after the election and has not backed down.
“I think I’ve been prepared coming into this week. I’ve just been expecting certain situations, expecting certain questions. I’m really up for anything this week,” she said after having shot 71 to finish at 1 under. “I think I’m definitely more stressed out on the course than that certain subject. I have my parents here watching. Our main focus — and I know it’s cliché — is hitting fairways, greens and make a few putts. Whatever happens outside is kind of none of our business. I’ll just go about my job, that’s to be a golfer, and do my best.
“You know, it’s his golf course and he’s President of the United States. He can do whatever he wants. It’s just a touchy subject. As long as he does his thing, I’ll do my thing,” she said, adding that she has heard no negative reaction from fans. “I’ve got one more day to make the best of it and roll up those Solheim Cup points so I can wear that red, white and blue in August.”