In 2009, the last time the U.S. Golf Association hosted a championship at Trump National in Bedminster, N.J., I remember being awed by the grandeur of the place. The grounds were immaculate (despite all the rain that fell down that week – maybe it’s a trend at Trump), the lunch spread felt like it was set out for a king and Donald Trump was on the grounds nearly every day in his standard golf outfit – white shirt, khaki pants, red baseball cap. He watched a lot of golf, but stayed in the background. The hype was more subdued because it was only the U.S. Junior and U.S. Girls’ Junior (played at Trump’s place the same week). It seemed like the venue would really shine when it hosted something on the level of a U.S. Women’s Open.
I kept waiting for those same feelings last week, but I never had them. Granted, there’s a significant difference between being on site and watching on TV, but a great venue will reveal itself as such either way. It felt like an odd championship. Here are some of the things that registered:
It was a week overshadowed by politics.
It felt odd to read all the player accounts of now President Trump’s arrival on Friday – how he came in with a motorcade (obviously) and diverted attention from star players to his glass-walled viewing box. It just felt surreal reading accounts of this in all the tournament reports, too. There’s no doubt it got some extra attention for the championship, but at what price? I’m torn on whether I think the players came out with a win here or not.
Grey skies took away from Trump National's splendor.
Back to my opening point, the weather didn’t do much to showcase the course. Every time I tuned in during the first two rounds, the whole place looked hazy and grey. Tournaments chopped up by weather delays always feel funny to me anyway.
American melt-down left devoted fans shaking their heads.
Stacy Lewis made a 10 on the 18th hole on Saturday. Cristie Kerr shot a final-round 75. Only three Americans finished in the top 20 at our national championship. It’s a global game, yes, but American viewers are obviously always going to root for the home team. We just didn’t have much to get excited about this time.
Lack of a back-story on new faces left viewers in the dark.
With so few Americans in contention, it became a race among Koreans. Their dominance in this sport is not a new headline. What made that element less exciting this week is that there were new faces – including winner Sung Hyun Park -- that I didn’t feel I had much back-story on. I generally liked Fox’s coverage (I’ll get to that later), but the one area in which they were lacking was revealing the storylines of the Korean players we were watching tear up this course. It was hard to find a rooting interest.
Where was the amateur hype?
There were 21 amateurs in the 156-player field, which is seven more amateurs than were in the U.S. Open last month. What I love about the Opens is they’re generally a good opportunity for some amateur headlines. To me, it was mind-blowing that there was a 17-year-old amateur, Hye-Jin Choi, leading the tournament on Sunday. She started that round one shot back. Granted, she has experience on the Korean LPGA, and finished in the top 30 in two LPGA starts this year. As Juli Inkster noted from the booth on Sunday, she’s really a professional amateur. But still, her age alone made her run incredible to me. She finished second, and there seemed a real lack of hype around that for reasons I can’t figure.
Juli Inkster was brilliant in the booth.
What a unique thing to have the American Solheim Cup captain in the booth for the U.S. Women’s Open. As it turns out, Juli Inkster didn’t get a lot of opportunity to praise potential American team members (see above), at least on the weekend, but she brought so many intelligent comments to the telecast. Everything Inkster had to say felt like it had an insider’s take. When she called attention to a statistic or made a comment about strategy, it was legitimate. She has won two of these things (plus three consecutive U.S. Women’s Amateurs), after all. Her manner is so relaxed and loose that you feel as if you’re just walking next to her in a fairway while she’s out on a Solheim scouting mission.
Regarding the Fox coverage in general, I remain a fan of the new life this network has breathed into USGA championships, hiccups and awkward moments aside. I only wish Fox had left Shane Bacon and Brad Faxon in the booth with Inkster over the weekend instead of subbing in Joe Buck and Paul Azinger. I loved Azinger during the U.S. Open, but Bacon and Faxon definitely had more chemistry with Inkster, and let her lead on Thursday and Friday. That was much more entertaining than listening to Buck speak in generalities on the weekend.