Tour Confidential: Will the president show up at the U.S. Women’s Open, and should he?

July 10, 2017

Every Sunday night, conducts an e-mail roundtable with writers from Sports Illustrated and GOLF Magazine. Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors and join the conversation by tweeting us @golf_com.

1. After more than a year of debate about whether the USGA should host the U.S. Women’s Open at Trump Bedminster, the week is finally here. But will President Donald Trump be on site? Brittany Lincicome recently said “Hopefully, maybe he doesn’t show up, and it won’t be a big debacle and it will be about us and not him.” Do you agree with Lincicome, and do you think we’ll see Trump on the grounds?

Sean Zak, associate editor, (@Sean_Zak): Any headlines that read “President Trump does [insert non-golf thing]” at one of the biggest events on the LPGA schedule will annoy me. So, I’m with Brittany in that I also hope he does not show up. However, knowing how much Trump has cared about getting his courses recognized as championship-worthy by golf’s governing bodies, I think he’ll be there on the weekend. The urge of seeing something he so avidly wished for come to visual fruition must be great.

Josh Sens, contributing writer, GOLF (@JoshSens): Given his priorities, I suspect he’ll make a cameo but would prefer that he stays away. Last I checked, he has more important things to do.

Jeff Ritter, digital development editor, Sports Illustrated Golf Group (@Jeff_Ritter): If Trump shows up, he becomes the center of the event. I actually think he might stay away — he seems to mostly show up at rallies or spots where he will be universally cheered. He’d almost certainly encounter tension or protests of some fashion in Jersey. I think it would be best for all involved, especially the golfers, if he sat this one out.

Josh Berhow, producer, (@Josh_Berhow): For how much time he spends there already, it’s hard to believe he will actually stay away on the one week he has the most eyes on his venue. This is the biggest payout the women play for all year. I’m sure they aren’t looking for added distractions.

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: I don’t see how he can resist. Far better for the event if he stays out of the Garden State for the week.

2. While Rory McIlroy fizzled out at the Irish Open, Jon Rahm stole the show. The 22-year-old Spaniard shot a final-round seven-under 65 to blow away the field and win by six. After Rahm won the Farmers earlier this year, in this space we said “We’ll stop short of saying he’ll be the next Seve or Jose Maria or Sergio, but what’s the ceiling for Rahm?” Well, would you like to raise your ceiling for, dare we say, the new British Open favorite?

Zak: I feel confident saying only Dustin Johnson has played better golf than Rahm over the last six months. Anytime you can play six months of golf as consistently great as Rahm has — moving from 137th to eighth in the World Ranking — your ceiling will be No. 1 player in the world. I think he’ll get there in his career, and I see him being a top 15 player for much of his career. He’s just so gifted across the board. How many majors or WGCs will he win along the way? Certainly a few of each can be expected.

Sens: I wouldn’t make him the odds-on favorite, but, like Vegas, I’d put him in my top 10 (I’d put Spieth, DJ and Sergio higher). As we’ve all seen, he’s got the talent to lap the field on any given weekend. But more important than our expectations for him are his expectations for himself and how they influence his performance. At Erin Hills, he let his emotions get the better of him and missed the cut. I doubt we’ll see a repeat of that disappointment at Birkdale. His major will come soon enough.

Ritter: It’s one thing to win; it’s another to win big. Rahm showed a new gear last weekend and I’m raising the bar—he looks like a future multi-major winner and Ryder Cup destroyer. I have DJ favored over him at Birkdale, but if this week he starts going by “Jon Rahm Rodriguez,” I’ll bump him up to No. 1.

Berhow: Thinking of a couple of decades with a Jon Rahm-anchored European Ryder Cup team sounds like so much fun. He needs to keep his emotions in check, sure, but those emotions are also propelling him to good things on the course, too. Like Sean said, I could see him reaching No. 1 in the world at some point in his career. He’s just too talented and his drive is there. There’s also no Tiger Woods holding the top spot with a vise grip.

Bamberger: It is unfair to Rahm and Seve’s legacy to even begin to compare them. Rahm is of course a fantastic talent. I don’t see him winning majors quite yet.

3. Rahm’s win wasn’t the only hot topic Sunday afternoon, as another rules infraction took center stage. While on the 6th green, Rahm marked his ball to the side, measured a putter-head length away (to get out of his partner’s line) and placed his mark down. But when he measured the putter head back and placed his ball on the green, he put it in front of the marker. After some discussion later in his round, rules official Andy McFee said Rahm used “reasonable judgement” and there was no penalty. Others, like Brandel Chamblee, disagreed, said there should be a penalty and that the rule is too vague. Is the rule broken, or did it work out the way it is supposed to?

Zak: I’m with Brandel here. As much as it was an infraction of one inch (and probably not two), it was an infraction nonetheless. Are we splitting hairs here? That’s probably what McFee thought. But this is a game of inches. I’m more curious as to why Rahm initially placed his mark on the side of his ball to begin with. That seems like the kind of move that can only result in troubling video reviews like the one we saw today.

Ritter: I stand by my earlier comment that Rahm is going to be a major player, but this wasn’t a great look. I don’t think he made a sloppy mark on purpose, but he ended up an inch or two closer to the hole on a two-foot putt. The ruling was generous. Kids: Always mark behind the ball.

Sens: It wasn’t millimeters, as McFee said. It was more like inches. And under the current rules, it looked like a violation. More generally, though, and more importantly, the incident reminds us that no matter what the governing bodies do to try to simplify the rules and minimize rules controversies, there’s no way to eliminate these sorts of kerfuffles for good. Questions about what can be “reasonably” expected of a player are always going to be subjective. That’s not a bad thing; just a real thing. Gray areas are part of what makes sports interesting: excellent fodder for grill room debate.

Berhow: It was the anchor ban last week and now this. I know golf is a game of honor, but I also know that in any sport, with any rule, if there is a gray area, it will be found. McFee surveyed the scene and interrogated Rahm and others and made the call he thought was right based on the Rules of Golf, but I was surprised Rahm got the pass. Let’s just be glad he won by 100 and it didn’t matter.

Bamberger: You gotta put your ball back where it was. That’s the rule. He didn’t follow it. Should have been penalized.

4. Speaking of McIlroy, he failed to make the cut at the Irish Open, an event he hosts and won last year. This comes after he missed the cut at the U.S. Open at Erin Hills and barely made the cut the following week at the Travelers. Which part of his struggles is most alarming? And can he find his game in time for Birkdale?

Zak: I think there is nothing alarming about what Rory has done this year. Absolutely nothing. We should only be alarmed if we expect him to have top-10 stuff all year long. In reality, he missed the cut (at an event where he plays host) for the fourth time in five years. He missed the cut at a new U.S. Open course when his driver failed him. All of this came after extended time away from the game as he rehabbed his rib injury. A missed cut when Rory is at his best is alarming, but he’s been far from normal for much of the season. If he didn’t have top 10s from earlier this season when he was healthy and playing frequently, then I’d be alarmed.

Sens: As a general rule, I don’t waste much emotional energy getting alarmed about multi-zillionaires. But there’s been a Whack-a-Mole strain to Rory’s game of late. One week, it’s the putter, and just when you think he’s got that nailed down, something else pops up. Then again, that’s golf. Of course it’s not too late for Rory. He could find the answer at any minute.

Ritter: I toss this one on the same pile as his U.S. Open: he’s working his way back from a rib injury and still rusty. This may not be the Summer of Rory, but he’ll eventually be fine.

Berhow: When Rory finds it, he finds it. He and Jason Day and two of the streakiest players out there when they get it going. Last year he missed the cut in two of three majors and we might have asked similar questions about his stumbles, but then he won the Deutsche Bank and Tour Championship in the same month. The switch could be turned on at any moment, and who wouldn’t love to see it happen at Birkdale?

Bamberger: When a player of his talent misses multiple cuts, something is wrong. Clubs, body, mental state, practice sessions. Probably not desire. He’ll sort it out but maybe not this year. He should have a 10-year view and we should as well.

5. It looks like we will see Jim “Bones” Mackay at the British Open after all. Mackay, Phil Mickelson’s longtime caddie, signed a contract with the Golf Channel and NBC Sports and will make his debut as an on-course reporter at Royal Birkdale. He’s also scheduled for tournaments in 2018. A good hire for the network? And does this mean he’s out of the caddie business for good?

Zak: A guy who knows golf, understands pressure situations, communicates well, has contributed to major victories and already passed the network’s quasi-tryout back at the RSM Classic? It’s as obvious of a hire as I think we’ve seen in the golf space. It will work. I’m stoked to hear him break down the importance of elements, yardages, club choice, etc., in those situations he knows better than almost anyone. For a guy who clearly loves touting the bag and carries with him a competitive fire (as much as a caddie can), I imagine there’s a “Love of Caddying” opt-out clause in that contract. All I’m saying is don’t be surprised if he says yes to the right golfer that requests his services.

Sens: Some broadcast hires are head-scratchers. (Tony Romo replacing Phil Simms?) Others are no-brainers. This is the latter. And yes: I’d be shocked if we never saw him on a bag again. A cameo here or there seems inevitable.

Ritter: Love the hire and look forward to his commentary. If he enjoys it, why go back to carrying tour bags? I think there’s a strong chance his looping days are done.

Berhow: Fantastic hire and I can’t wait to see what he has to offer during the Open. As for his future as a looper, I would never count him out. He’s now officially golf’s version of John Calipari. He’s got a great gig and can sit back and take the exact job that suits him best when that time comes, if it ever does. And I think it will.

Bamberger: I think he’ll be a breath of fresh air in the reporting role, an excellent and creative hire. If his body is cooperative, I think he’ll caddie again. It’s in his blood. The rush of the team room and majors is too much to give up when you are essentially in your prime.