On Friday, female golfers began competing for the 2017 U.S. Women’s Open championship. While it’s unprecedented that the leader of the free world makes an appearance, the iconic tournament happened to be taking place at President Donald Trump’s course in Bedminster, New Jersey.
Two days ahead of the tournament, USA Today award-winning sports writer Christine Brennan penned an open letter of sorts to the president asking him to stay away.
“If you show up, Mr. President, you become the ultimate distraction. Cameras that would be focused on the golfers will turn toward you,” she wrote.
Whether attendees agree with Trump politically or not, Brennan argued that his presence doesn’t have anything to do with politics — it has to do with the competitors. She noted that a presidential appearance will “overwhelm the event,” and instead of being “a story,” he’ll be “the story.”
“He will steal the spotlight from the golfers who deserve it,” she wrote. “Women who receive a fraction of the attention, and the pay, of their male counterparts.”
Brennan also referenced the “Access Hollywood” tape that surfaced in October 2016 and highlighted the supposed irony that the “most important event in women’s golf” is taking place at a course owned by “a man who bragged about sexually assaulting women.”
She called it a “shame” if Trump does attend and the cameras focus on the president instead of the golfers.
On Friday, Trump did make an appearance, and Brennan was at least partially right in her prediction.
According to The New York Times, the number-three highest ranked American in women’s golf, Lexi Thompson, was about to take a shot when she noticed she’d lost everyone’s attention. As it turns out, the president had just arrived and the distraction caused her to rush and flub her shot.
However, the two have played together in South Florida. Thompson didn’t seem to mind the interruption, and she laughed as she recalled the shot she got to show the president.
While Brennan was right that the president’s presence did take some attention away from the golfers, not everyone who took part in the event agreed that his attendance would be harmful:
Pres Trump spotted in private skybox at his golf club watching the US Women’s Open, and motioning to the crowd. pic.twitter.com/icU8TgyczL
— Mark Knoller (@markknoller) July 14, 2017
Lauren Stephenson agreed it was a distraction but added, “It’s pretty cool to be in the presence of the president, so I guess he gets a pass.”
Angela Stanford, a golfer who finished a few hours before Trump arrived, explained to the NYT that she “respects” the office of the president and wondered, “How many chances are you going to get to play on a president’s golf course during a U.S. Open?”
In her piece, Brennan downplayed the theory that if Trump attended the event it could be good for women’s golf because it would bring attention to the sport.
However, Stacy Lewis, who was once the top player in the world and played on Friday, said she was “excited” at the thought that the president — “regardless of who it is” — would be watching. She also highlighted the positive impact his presence had. “He tweeted about coming to the U.S. Women’s Open. Some people didn’t know it was going on,” she told the Times.
According to NJ.com, the president, who is an avid golfer, also spent the day Saturday cheering on the female athletes.