BEDMINSTER, N.J. — Lexi Thompson, at No. 3 the highest-ranked American in the women’s world rankings, was preparing to hit her third shot, from just off the green, on the par-5 15th hole at Trump National Golf Club when she noticed that most of the fans in her gallery had their backs turned to her.
Thompson knew that could mean only one thing — her occasional recreational playing partner in South Florida, President Donald Trump, had arrived at the U.S. Women’s Open and made his way to the makeshift fishbowl of a suite erected for him on the course, which he owns.
With the president watching from his perch a few yards away, Thompson said, she rushed her chip using a hybrid club. Trump, she said, is a reliably fast player, so he no doubt applauded her quickness, if not the result. Her ball came to rest more than 10 feet from the pin, and she two-putted for a par that felt like a bogey given how well she had hit her first two shots.
“I didn’t hit the best shot in front of him,” Thompson said with a laugh after signing for an even-par 72 in the second round.
She added: “I had heard he was coming to the course today. I tried not to focus on it too much.”
Shanshan Feng of China, who holds a two-stroke lead, at 8-under, played in the group directly behind Thompson. As she approached the 15th green, she wondered what all the yelling and screaming was about. She knew the cheering probably was not for her.
“I was still really focusing on my game,” said Feng, who posted a 70.
A few miles outside the club grounds, anti-Trump activists gathered to protest the US Golf Association’s choice to work with a Trump-owned property to hold the most prestigious women’s event in the United States. But inside the gates, Trump received a different reception.
Most of the players described his presence as a welcome distraction. By showing up, Trump elevated the profile of the women, whose attendance and television audience have not grown as fast as their talent pool, which is so deep that the first 18 events of the 2017 LPGA Tour season produced 17 different winners.
Trump is the first sitting president to make an appearance at a US Women’s Open, so no one was surprised that his arrival overshadowed the golf. The group playing directly ahead of Thompson’s became stuck in traffic when Trump’s motorcade passed the clubhouse, which sits between the ninth green and the 10th tee.
Alison Walshe and Lauren Stephenson, both Americans, and Weiwei Zhang of China were held for six minutes by security personnel under a makeshift shelter off the ninth green before being allowed to proceed to the 10th tee.
They ran into another jam, this time involving human traffic, on the 15th green and the 16th tee. On the par-3 16th, fans congregated on the balcony of the clubhouse and around the base of Trump’s suite and shouted, “Make America great again!” — among other things — as the players were hitting their tee shots.
The fans buzzed around Trump’s suite, trying to get a better view of him as he stood at the windows, staring out at the crowd and waving.
“It was definitely a little distracting,” said Stephenson, a 20-year-old amateur who has posted consecutive 72s. “We had a lot of people yelling and just a lot of movement, but it’s pretty cool to be in the presence of the president, so I guess he gets a pass.”
The juxtaposition of a golf tournament and a presidential visit created some surreal scenes. A member of the kitchen staff was scanned with a wand by security personnel before he could take a tray of food into the clubhouse. A player walking down the steps of the clubhouse did a double take as three Secret Service agents passed her on their way up.
“That was kind of what intrigued me to start the week,” said Stacy Lewis, a former world No. 1 who played in the same group as Thompson. “We never had an active sitting president at one of our events, so I was kind of excited about the prospect of, regardless of who it is, that he came here to watch us. He tweeted about coming to the US Women’s Open. Some people didn’t know it was going on.”
As Trump’s motorcade snaked toward the clubhouse, scattered cheers erupted from fans, some of whom stood in a steady rain for more than a half-hour. Carlota Ciganda of Spain, who was exhausted after a long day on which she had awakened early to finish the final hole of her first round and then turn around and play 18 holes of her second, became an accidental spectator. She arrived at the valet pickup spot shortly before Trump came through and had to wait 20 minutes to retrieve her courtesy car.
Angela Stanford, a member of six US Solheim Cup teams, finished her round of 72 a couple of hours before Trump’s arrival. She said it was “pretty cool” that Trump had carved time out of his busy schedule to attend the tournament.
“I respect the office of the president,” she said, adding, “How many chances are you going to get to play on a president’s golf course during a US Open?”