BEDMINSTER -- His arrival almost felt subdued, which was hard to believe. Yes, a few dozen golf fans had stopped along the narrow road leading to the Trump National clubhouse to see the presidential motorcade arrive, but many of them had just gotten stuck there when security closed off the walkway.
"What is going on here?!" a man asked in a thick Korean accent at 3:39 pm on Friday. A minute later, he discovered the reason: Donald Trump had arrived, in the second of nine vehicles in the official procession, waving to the crowd from behind the tinted window as he passed.
Trump went to his compound at the country club and then emerged about an hour and half later, climbing the steps to his "skybox" where he watched the U.S. Women's Open on TV with a few guests. "That's my president!" someone yelled when he exited.
He'll be back again on Saturday for the third round of the tournament, and there is no indication when he'll emerge to watch the action and if he'll stay in that secure location. That intrigue means it could be a wild day at his course -- for spectators and fans alike.
But it won't match the last time he came to a golf tournament in New Jersey. His appearance at The Barclays on August 30, 2015, was one of the wildest scenes I have ever seen at a sporting event, one that completely overshadowed the tournament itself.
Here's one scene from the column I wrote then:
Perhaps the highlight came when Trump ran into Christopher Knaub, a fan from Long Island, who was wearing a sweat-drenched "Trump 2016" T-shirt. Knaub looked like a teenage girl who turned the corner and ran into the Beatles on a New York City street in 1964.
Knaub went to put his arm around Trump for the selfie.
"Not so close," Trump said. "You're soaking wet."
He got his photo and then joined the massive following. Trump was mostly following Jim Herman, a golf journeyman who was working at his Trump Bedminster course until the boss convinced him to go out and chase a professional career. But he also checked in on the big names.
He found hockey great Wayne Gretzky, whose son-in-law, Dustin Johnson, won this tournament here four years ago, and they chatted for a few minutes. When Johnson walked past the pair after teeing off on the 15th hole, Gretzky called out to get his attention.
Johnson's eyes opened wide.
"Hey!" he yelled, pointing at Trump.
That was crazy. This? It might be a scene, but it is unlikely that Trump's presence at the U.S. Women's Open will match that moment at Plainfield Country Club for several reasons, including:
1. The Secret Service. When Trump arrived at The Barclays that summer, he was already a candidate for president but didn't have a single security guard with him. A half dozen Edison police officers provided him with some protection as he made his way around the golf course.
That, obviously, isn't going to happen now. Trump is unlikely to spend much time roaming the course, and if he does, he'll have the protection of the U.S. government. Agents were everywhere at Trump National on Friday before and after his arrival, as you would expect.
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2. There are fewer spectators. When he gestured to the crowd from his "skybox" on Friday, it caused enough of a commotion to distract the players on the nearby 15th fairway.
Still: There are far fewer fans here than there were at The Barclays, and that's likely to be the case even if attendance spikes over the weekend. That crowd gawking up at the president dispersed after about 15 minutes, leaving just a few stragglers and the White House press corps.
3. The media is watching. About those dogged White House reporters: They'll have eyes on every move he makes this weekend. It seems impossible to believe that Trump arrived unannounced at The Barclays, but this weekend, his every footstep will be documented.
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4. He has to be more "presidential." Yes, this is a moving bar (and trending downward) but Trump can't be the freewheeling persona that he was as a candidate that summer. He took me into the military appreciation tent at The Barclays that day and jokingly told the crowd to kick my ass if I didn't "write well" about him.
If he did that as president? Well, we both might steal a news cycle on CNN, which these days is hard to do.
5. He'll be stationary (we think). What made The Barclays a circus was that Trump wandered the course freely. It seems hard to believe that he'll head straight into the galleries this weekend, given security concerns. But if he does? Buckle up, New Jersey.
Steve Politi may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @StevePoliti. Find NJ.com on Facebook.
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