All eyes on U.S. Women’s Open at Trump National Golf Club

AP Photo/Julio Cortez

Can Brittany Lang become only the fifth player in the past 40 years to defend a U.S. Women’s Open title?

BEDMINSTER, N.J. — The oldest and most lucrative major in women’s golf always attracts a lot of interest, and the focus has intensified for the 72nd U.S. Women’s Open at Trump National Golf Club Bedminster because of the venue’s connection to U.S. President Donald Trump.

Trump bought the property in New Jersey horse country, formerly the estate of automaker John DeLorean, in 2002. The U.S. Women’s Open is being played on Trump National’s Old Course. Another major, the 2022 PGA Championship, is also slated for Trump National.

With so many headlines surrounding the tournament before it even begins, here are the five things to watch for this week.

1. Will Donald Trump be the third sitting president to attend a USGA championship?

Although Trump will be in France while the first two days of the U.S. Women’s Open are being played, there is a lot of speculation that the First Golfer will be on hand on the weekend at his eponymous club, where he spends a lot of time.

According to the USGA, Presidents Warren G. Harding and Bill Clinton attended U.S. Opens while in office. Harding attended the 1921 U.S. Open at Columbia Country Club and presented the trophy and gold medal to winner Jim Barnes. Clinton — with his daughter, Chelsea — watched part of the final round in 1997 at Congressional Country Club from a private viewing stand constructed on the 16th hole but didn’t participate in the awards presentation.

Former President Gerald Ford attended the 1982 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach and was part of the closing ceremony but didn’t present the trophy to Tom Watson. Former President George W. Bush spoke during the flag-raising ceremony before the 2013 Walker Cup at the National Golf Links of America in Southampton, New York, but didn’t attend the two-day competition.

Several LPGA golfers were questioned in pre-championship media conferences about the event being held on a Trump-owned course and stressed their desire to stay out of any political debate.

“I take my role as a female role model very seriously,” said 2014 U.S. Women’s Open champion Michelle Wie. “This week is about the golf. This is our national championship and one of my favorite weeks of the year. I really want to focus on the golf part and hopefully inspire a lot of young women and women in general, hopefully, with my game.”

2. What are the odds of successful defense by 2016 champion Brittany Lang?

If history is an accurate indicator, it won’t be easy for Lang, 31, who took the 2016 championship in a playoff over Anna Nordqvist at CordeValle Golf Club in San Martin, California.

In the past 40 years, only Hollis Stacy (1977-78), Betsy King (1989-90), Annika Sorenstam (1995-96) and Karrie Webb (2000-01) have successfully defended a U.S. Women’s Open title, and it has happened only seven times in the event’s history. In fact, since 1991, only four players have even finished in the top 10 the year after winning the Open.

Unfortunately for Lang, she is not playing great coming into this week. She doesn’t have a top-10 finish, and she tied for 42nd and missed the cut in the first two majors of 2017, the ANA Inspiration and KPMG Women’s PGA Championship. It would be nice if Lang had a good week, though, given that Nordqvist’s rules infraction in the 2016 playoff took some attention away from Lang’s Open victory.

3. Will experience at Trump National Bedminster matter?

This is not the first USGA championship being played Trump National Bedminster. The 2009 U.S. Junior Amateur (won by Jordan Spieth) and U.S. Girls’ Junior (won by Amy Anderson) were contested on the club’s Old (site of the Women’s Open) and New courses.

A dozen players who competed in the 2009 U.S. Girls’ Junior are playing this week, topped by world No. 2 Ariya Jutanugarn, who advanced to the quarterfinals in 2009, and No. 3 Lexi Thompson. Other players coming back for another national championship are Austin Ernst, Danielle Kang, Kim Kaufman, In-Kyung Kim, Jessica Korda, Alison Lee, Ally McDonald, Stephanie Meadow, Jenny Shin and Kelly Shon.

“To be honest, I don’t remember the golf course at all,” said Kang, who won the Women’s PGA Championship earlier this month. “All is remember is getting the Donald Trump dolls. I remember getting Trump water bottles. I remember that kind of gift.”

4. On an important anniversary, can an amateur make some new history?

Five amateurs — the most famous being four-time champion Bobby Jones and the most recent Johnny Goodman in 1933 — have won the U.S. Open, but only one amateur has captured the U.S. Women’s Open. This is the 50th anniversary of Catherine Lacoste’s victory on the Cascades course at The Homestead in Hot Springs, Virginia.

Richard Martin-Roberts/R&A via Getty Images

If any amateur has a chance to break through this week, it could be Ladies’ British Open Amateur winner Leona Maguire, who holds the No. 1 spot in the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking.

Lacoste, daughter of French tennis player/clothing icon Rene Lacoste and Simone de la Chaume, 1927 Ladies’ British Open Amateur champion, defeated Susie Maxwell and Beth Stone by 2 strokes despite shooting a final-round 79. Half a dozen amateurs have been runner-up since Lacoste took the title at age 22, with Lang and Morgan Pressel being the last to come so close, tying for second at Cherry Hills in 2005.

Don’t be surprised if some of the 21 amateurs in the field contend this week at Trump National Bedminster. Three to watch: Leona Maguire, 22; Eun Jeong Seong, 17; Hye-Jin Choi, 17.

Maguire, from Ireland and a member of the Duke University women’s team, holds the No. 1 spot in the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking and won the recent Ladies’ British Open Amateur. A runner-up in the 2017 NCAA championship, Maguire has won seven college tournaments.

In 2016, Seong became the first player to win the U.S. Girls’ Junior and U.S. Women’s Amateur in the same year. The South Korean has gotten a taste of the pro game this year by playing in four LPGA events, with her best finish a tie for 16th in the Lotte Championship.

Choi, also from South Korea, was low amateur in last year’s U.S. Women’s Open and tied for seventh in the 2017 ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open, an LPGA event.

5. Will having her mother on hand help Lexi Thompson?

Thompson figures to have a clearer mind this week. Her mother, Judy, has completed radiation treatments for uterine cancer after surgery last month and will be in her gallery at Trump National.

“She had her last radiation treatment last Wednesday,” Thompson said Tuesday. “She’s here supporting me — happy to have her here.”

Thompson, 22, an eight-time winner in her LPGA career and now No. 3 in the world, tied for seventh two weeks ago at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship. “To hear that [she was sick] was definitely difficult,” Thompson said. “I was trying to focus as much as I could on the golf course, but it was tough inside. She’s my best friend, and it’s great to have her out here supporting me.”