By Larry Fine
BEDMINSTER, New Jersey (Reuters) - Players stuck to an apolitical party line ahead of the U.S. Women's Open at Trump National on Tuesday, resisting comment on U.S. President Donald Trump, who alienated many with controversial remarks about women.
One after another, top-rated contenders came through the Media Center for the year's third women's major with the same bland message -- they are here to play golf and not talk about politics.
"I have my opinion and everybody is free to have their own opinion," former world number one Lydia Ko of New Zealand told reporters. "But for me, I think I'm just going to have a great week here, enjoy it.
"I'm excited to play the U.S. Women's Open and not think about it in a political way."
Yet a Trump cloud hung over the pastoral setting where the course routed through rolling farmland and horse pastures will be the battleground for 156 players contesting the third women's major of the year.
The U.S. Golf Association (USGA) named Trump's Bedminster course in 2012 as host for the 2017 Women's Open, long before the golf-loving real estate magnate and reality TV star officially entered the political arena.
Campaign rhetoric and revelations that many found to be misogynistic created an uproar, particularly among women's rights activists, and hundreds of thousands of women filled the streets of several major U.S. cities in mass protests the day after the inauguration of President Trump.
But the U.S. governing body for golf stuck by their choice.
USA Today on Tuesday reported that then-candidate Trump threatened to sue the USGA if the championship was taken away from Bedminster.
The USGA declined comment.
"As a matter of policy, the terms of our contracts with championship host sites are confidential and accordingly the USGA will not comment," they said in a statement.
American Michelle Wie, the 2014 Women's Open winner and a Stanford University graduate, said: "I take my role as a female role model very seriously. (But) this week is about the golf.
"I really want to focus on the golf part and I want to hopefully inspire a lot of young women and women in general hopefully with my game."
"I will not comment on any political part this week."
One prominent American golfer spoke out on the approaching major two weeks ago at the KPMG Women's PGA Championship.
Brittany Lincicome, a two-time major winner, said she hoped Trump stayed away from Bedminster during the championship.
"Hopefully he doesn't show up and it will be about us," she told the Chicago Tribune, instead of the limelight falling on the president.
Word this week that a temporary flight restriction notice was issued by the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) for the Bedminster area during the tournament raised speculation Trump could be planning to drop in.
Championship director, Matt Sawicki said: "The only thing we know about the President's schedule is that he plans on attending a Bastille Day celebration in France on Friday. Beyond that we have not been told."
A local protest is expected to be staged off the course grounds at some point during the tournament.
Last month a women's advocacy group called UltraViolet protested during the men's U.S. Open in Wisconsin by flying a banner that read: "USGA/LPGA: TAKE A MULLIGAN, DUMP TRUMP."
(Reporting by Larry Fine; Editing by Andrew Both)