BEDMINSTER, N.J. – What if you held a political debate and a golf championship broke out?
Not sure, but players who have gathered for the U.S. Women’s Open here in Trumpminster – sorry – Bedminster hope to find out.
The site of the biggest championship in women’s golf is the same place where 15-year-old Jordan Spieth won the U.S. Junior Amateur in 2009, while Amy Anderson won the U.S. Girls’ Junior the same week.
It’s a club that counts 2007 Women’s Open champion Cristie Kerr among its members, a club that will host the 2022 PGA Championship, a golf course that ranks No. 80 among Golfweek’s Best Modern Courses.
That is, it’s the kind of facility that attracts significant golf championships, the kind of test that puts the best players in the world on notice.
Ah, but it also is a property owned by Donald Trump, the 45th U.S. president. The leader of the free world was hired in 2016 at the behest of nearly 63 million voters, 42 percent of them female.
For some – at least some members of the media – the playing of this 72nd Women’s Open at Trump National Golf Club represents a defacement. The democratic process notwithstanding, they harbor a 2005 video shown by Access Hollywood during the campaign that featured Trump in a lewd conversation about women.
They consider the staging of this event to be a major conflict, not a major championship. They suggest that the USGA’s principles should be incompatible with the president’s principles. And they insist, in the midst of this captivating New Jersey horse country, on conducting a political debate.
Just one problem: The players are focused on the golf championship that begins Thursday (tee times: http://bit.ly/2sASWNA).
“Everybody has their own opinions,” said Lydia Ko, the fourth-ranked player in the world. “… For me, I think I'm just going to have a great week here, enjoy it. And I'm excited to play the U.S. Women's Open and not think of it in a political way for me.”
Michelle Wie is enjoying a resurgent 2017. The former child star has six top-10s, including three in her past four starts. Wie captured the 2014 Women’s Open – her most recent victory – and she would like nothing more than to add another national title. She refused to connect the dots that take her participation here to her position on “sexual assault.”
“I take my role as a female role model very seriously,” Wie said. “This week is about the golf. The U.S. Open is our national championship. It is one of my favorite weeks of the year. So, this week, you know, I really want to focus on the golf part, and I want to hopefully inspire a lot of young women and women in general, hopefully, with my game.”
A story made the grid on Monday night, asserting Trump threatened to sue the USGA if it were to move the championship, referencing conversations said to have taken place two years ago. The USGA issued a statement, declining to deny or confirm.
A few days earlier, LPGA player Brittany Lincicome was quoted, expressing hope that the president would not appear at the championship. “Hopefully, maybe, he doesn’t show up, and it won’t be a big debacle, and it will be about us and not him,” Lincicome said.
Just one more problem: Those who would make the championship about him, not about the players, have shown up. They present load-bearing questions such as this one, asked on Tuesday:
“Brittany Lincicome, you probably know this, admirably had the guts to speak out and said she hopes that Donald Trump stays away this week from this tournament … so it won't be a big debacle and be about us – meaning the golfers, not him. Do you agree with Brittany? And if you feel that you want to say it's politics, do you feel that you cannot speak out about Trump because everyone seems to be … saying they can't talk about it?”
If the setting were a courtroom, the next thing you might hear would be, “Objection, your honor! The lawyer is leading the witness.”
But this isn’t a court of law. This isn’t “The Situation Room,” “Meet the Press” or even “House of Cards.” This is the U.S. Women’s Open, on a demanding golf course. The only agendas are to hit fairways, hit greens and make putts. The conflicting thoughts concern club selection, wind direction and green speeds.
“I believe golfers are just answering questions because we are golfers,” said Danielle Kang, the feel-good winner of the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship two weeks ago. “We get asked a golf question, we are free to answer any of our opinions and stuff.
“We're here to play a golf tournament. We're here to play a major championship hosted by the USGA. We're all just really happy to be playing the U.S. Open.”
In other words, you can put an elephant in the room, if you’d like. But don’t expect those trying to conduct a golf championship this week to feed it.
Dan O’Neill, who covered golf for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch from 1989 to 2017, is an editorial consultant on golf for Fox Sports. His articles have appeared in publications such as Golfweek, Golf World, Golf.com and The Memorial magazine. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @WWDOD