BEDMINSTER, N.J. — At 5 o’clock Friday afternoon, with the rain over and the president of the United States on the property at Trump National Bedminster, USGA executive director and CEO Mike Davis stepped out of an operations trailer at the 72nd U.S. Women’s Open.
“Lot of people talking into their collars,” Davis said.
Yes, after President Donald Trump arrived at 3:40 p.m. in a motorcade from Newark Liberty International Airport — soon after Air Force One returned there from a brief presidential visit to France — the security was indeed a lot more serious than a gallery marshal raising his arm to get folks to lower their voices.
Officers, in uniform and plainclothes. Guns, small and large — some of them, it appeared, in a case on the back of golf cart where clubs are usually carried.
The anticipation — delight to some, dread to others — of Trump coming to the championship turned into reality. It was a second round played in drizzle, downpours and, as Trump watched play from a private box near the 15th green late in the day, under cloudy yet calm conditions that belied the stormy run-up to a major golf event being played at one of the president’s courses.
“I secretly want to be a Secret Service agent,” Angela Stanford said after completing her round a bit before Trump got to Bedminster. “So I’m kind of hoping to see one at some point. They are hard to find. But it’s pretty cool [having] Secret Service at your major golf tournament.”
Stanford, who is tied for 14th at 2-under 142, six strokes behind leader Shanshan Feng, should get her wish over the weekend.
“My understanding is, if all things stay the same, he will be here through the championship,” Davis told espnW about Trump’s schedule. “In the world we live in, that could change quickly. If he has to leave, that’s probably not a good thing. I hope he is here.”
A modest gallery around the 15th green and nearby 16th tee — spectators mixed with golf journalists and White House reporters trying to observe what Trump was doing — appeared glad to see the 45th president. They cheered and applauded when he moved near the windows of his viewing area a couple of times and greeted them with waves and fist bumps.
Many of the fans were trained on the president’s private box, with their backs turned away from the action on the 15th green.
“I heard people like kind of screaming, so that’s what I was trying to find out,” Feng said about looking in that direction while on the hole. “I was trying to find out why they were screaming. But I was still really focusing on my game. I didn’t really get distracted.”
The same couldn’t be said for Lexi Thompson, one of the few competitors who has played recreational golf with the president at Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach, Florida, not far from her home. Thompson, at 1-under through two rounds, hit a 3-wood left of the green on her second shot at the par 5 but failed to make a birdie after a poor chip.
Presidents have been a big part of sporting events for many, many years … To get a sitting president to come to one of our championships is a big deal.
USGA executive director and CEO Mike Davis
“I had heard he was coming to the course today,” Thompson said. “I could tell there were a lot of people around the suite, so I figured he was up there and watching. Unfortunately, I didn’t hit the best shot in front of him. I really wanted to make birdie on that hole. It was full determination.”
The USGA, which awarded this event to Trump National Bedminster in 2012, three years before he announced he was running for President, approached this venue with similar resolve in the face of criticism that the event should not be played there.
“When we chose this site, we didn’t know this was going to happen,” Davis said of Trump’s ascent to the White House. “We [had] an agreement, and we live by those agreements. Maybe it’s analogous to the Rules of Golf. We honored that. And we were confident that this was going to be a wonderful site for this event.”
Midway through the championship, with the USGA having received favorable feedback from players about the course and how they’ve been treated, Davis defended the decision to hold the event at Trump Bedminster.
“We go back and say it’s about wanting to focus on golf and what we do,” he said. “Listen, we’re not the moral character of the United States of America. We realize people have different positions about things. We respect that and further, in terms of his presence here, some people love it and some people don’t like it. I’m not going to comment on my own personal views, but I will say this: I don’t care who is president of the United States. That office deserves respect.”
Warren Harding and Bill Clinton attended U.S. Opens, but Trump is the first sitting president to attend a U.S. Women’s Open. That fact is not lost on the players.
“I was kind of excited about the prospect of it, regardless of who it is, that he came here to watch it,” Stacy Lewis said. “He tweeted about coming to the U.S. Women’s Open. Some people didn’t even know it was going on. It’s kind of a historic and cool moment to have our president here.”
Marina Alex agreed.
“Regardless of your political affiliation and whether you are a fan of Trump or you’re not a fan of Trump, having a president at a women’s golf event is pretty remarkable,” Alex said. “We have an unbelievable group of talented women playing golf right now. If it’s allowing more people to see us play our game, I don’t see anything wrong with that.”
A couple of groupings had to pause in making their walk from the ninth green to 10th tee as they made the turn to allow the presidential motorcade to maneuver past the clubhouse.
“We just waited for five or six minutes for him and the cars to pass through,” said one of the affected golfers, Alison Walshe. “We understand what was happening. I get it. It’s necessary. We didn’t mind.”
As night fell, the dozen members of the traveling White House press pool waited and worked in the dining area of the Women’s Open media tent, while Trump was having dinner at the club. An extra-large urn of coffee had been brought in for the journalists, weary from the quick trans-Atlantic trip to cover Trump’s visit with Emmanuel Macron, the president of France.
“Presidents have been a big part of sporting events for many, many years,” Davis said, “whether it’s throwing out the first pitch in baseball, flipping a coin in football or inviting championship teams to the White House. To get a sitting president to come to one of our championships is a big deal.”
President Harding presented the champion’s trophy and gold medal to Jim Barnes in 1921. Will Trump leave his private box for a different role early Sunday evening?
“I don’t think the trophy part is in the plans right now, unless something’s changed,” Davis said. “But if President Trump were to come to us [and want to], you’re going to respect the office.”
Regardless of what Trump does at his course over the next two days at a U.S. Women’s Open that already is like no other, a lot of people will be talking into their collars.