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Players shift attention from Trump to golf

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BEDMINSTER, N.J. – Don’t let them fool you.

The 156 players teeing it up at the U.S. Women’s Open Thursday have had “Trump” on the brain all week.

While activists and media may have been preoccupied with President Donald Trump’s controversial history with women and minorities, the players have been focused on Trump’s prized 18-hole Old Course here at Trump National.

They’re eager to finally get to answer the questions they want to answer, the questions Trump’s course will ask them, instead of all those other Trump questions they have been getting in the media center.

Defending champion Brittany Lang struck the tone for a lot of players Wednesday when she was asked one more question than she wanted to be asked about the president.

“I would love to answer a golf question for you if you have one,” Lang said.

The questions Trump’s Old Course will ask won’t be any easier to answer than the ones reporters asked, but the players can’t wait for the former inquisition to begin.

“The USGA always does a good job of making players think with their setups,” said Morgan Pressel, winner of the 2007 Kraft Nabisco. “I really enjoy that.”

The players aren’t wondering whether Trump will show up to present the Harton S. Semple Trophy on Sunday. They’re wondering who will take the trophy home.

The women’s game has never seemed deeper with more and more international stars taking over the LPGA, a tour that was once dominated by Americans.

“Our tour has so much talent now,” said 2007 U.S. Women’s Open champion Cristie Kerr said. “You feel like anybody could win on a given week.”

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Trump National’s Old Course was designed by Tom Fazio. It will play to 6,732 yards, through rolling hills in what used to be farmland and horse pastures. It will play as a par 72.

“It has everything,” Kerr said. “It's going to be a mental grind out there. You’re going to have to manage yourself in between shots because it's very demanding on every shot.”

So Yeon Ryu, the world No. 1, won the year’s first major championship at the ANA Inspiration in April. Danielle Kang won the second at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship two weeks ago.

Both championships ended in dramatic finishes that came down to the final hole, with Ryu winning in a playoff and Kang winning with a birdie at the last.

Kerr sees a supreme test coming, especially if the course continues to grow firm and fast.

“It's long,” Kerr said. “It’s not super tight off the tee, but there's plenty of rough, so you have to hit the fairways. This was a different golf course today. This course was like, `OK, I'm a U.S. Open course.”

The Old Course will give players more room off the tee, which the big hitters should like, but misses will be punished by 4 inches of juicy rough.

Lexi Thompson, the Rolex world No. 3, is the betting favorite. She won the ANA Inspiration in 2014 and nearly won it again this year. She’s among the longest hitters in the game.

“I think it is a good golf course for my game,” Thompson said. “It is playing long and I get to hit a lot drivers out here. It's definitely a longer golf course. You would like shorter clubs coming into these greens, with the runoffs and the slopes.”

The Old Course greens are massive, with players having to find the right plateaus, or sections, to avoid three-putts.

“You have to hit it to the right spot, or you could face quite a challenge,” said Aza Munoz. “The 9th green is huge. It looks 50 yards long.”

Munoz said avoiding three putts will be a challenge.

With shaved banks around greens, short games will be put to the test, with balls running off into collection areas.

“You will see players chipping with hybrids, long irons, short irons, lob wedges,” Pressel said. “As usual, the USGA puts a premium on the short game, puts a premium on your mental abilities and even your physical conditioning. It’s a long walk around this course.”

A long walk to the Harton S. Semple Trophy.