BEDMINSTER, N.J. – A presidential motorcade, a persistent rain, a punishing golf course, pre-dawn wake-up calls for some and the pressure of the U.S. Women’s Open for all. Yikes! That’s what you call a major championship test.
On one of the more challenging tournament days in recent memory, when a first round that began Thursday finished on Friday and the rain, heavy at times, barely took a break until late in the day, it was Shanshan Feng, the queen of cool, at the top of the leaderboard when 36 holes were finally in the books.
In the middle of all that, President Trump, who has made Trump National his summer White House, cruised into the club at 3:40 p.m. in a convoy of black vehicles, paused to wave to reporters before heading inside and later watched from a booth near the 15th green. It was the first time a sitting president had been at the U.S. Women’s Open.
Feng, whose swing mirrors her personality – carefree and whimsical – was more than up for the myriad of obstacles tossed at her. She did have the advantage of getting a good night sleep since she finished her round on Thursday and followed her opening-round 66 with a 70 to go into the weekend at eight-under par 136, two-strokes ahead of Amy Yang, Jeongeun6 Lee and 17-year-old amateur Hye-Jin Choi.
Seon Woo Bae is at 139 and Carlota Ciganda, who got up before dawn to hit three shots to finish off a 69, is at 140, tied with So Yeon Ryu and In Gee Chun. Marina Alex, a Jersey girl from 40 miles away, is at 141 with Brooke Henderson, Minjee Lee and Lydia Ko.
Feng treaded water beautifully, playing the first 10 holes, most of it in the rain, even par then, when the weather broke, birdied Nos. 11 and 12 followed by pars the rest of the way for her 70.
“I played probably the first nine holes in the rain, but my phone told me it was going to rain all afternoon and I was prepared,” said the always chill Feng. “I really didn’t pay attention to the weather and just concentrated on every shot. But I had a lot of 5-irons and hybrids into par-4s and a 3-wood on No. 9.”
In a conversation with Gary Gilchrist, Feng’s longtime swing coach, he said her consistency is amazing considering she doesn’t practice. When Shanshan asked Gilchrist why he said that, he replied: “Because you don’t practice.” Her response was to burst out laughing and walk away. She knew he was right.
Shanshan’s closest competitors are Yang, who has 16 top-10s in majors without winning one; Lee, who has the 6 in her name because there are five other players on the KLPGA with the same name; and Choi, the No.2 ranked amateur in the world who was cruising along until she bogeyed two of her last three holes.
Not everyone was up to the challenges of the day. Gaby Lopez followed her 70 with an 81, sending her home for the weekend along with major winners Brittany Lincicome, Paula Creamer, Jiyai Shin, Inbee Park and Morgan Pressel. Michelle Wie, the 2014 U.S. Women’s Open winner, withdrew Friday morning because of a sore right shoulder.
Henderson, who opened with a 70, put together an impressive round with glue and tape and turned what could have been a 76 into a 71. She was all over the map and still managed to be at three-under par. She birdied No. 1, ran off 11 pars in a row before making her first bogey of the tournament on No. 13, then birdied the next hole. She hit only eight greens in the round. It was the kind of damage control that can win you a major championship.
The weather is supposed clear, but the President will still be watching and it will still be the U.S. Women’s Open. The contenders will get some more sleep Friday night, but they will wake up Saturday to golf’s greatest challenge – the pressure of a weekend at a major championship.Click here for complete scores from the second round of the 2017 U.S. Women's Open.