Her round, which she played in a group with Kerr, started to come apart on the par-4 11th when her second shot went over the green. Her chip trickled through the green like a tear down a face.
Before Lewis’s next shot, the skies above the green erupted in noise. A United States Coast Guard helicopter chased a small plane, which had infiltrated the no-fly zone over the course, and was quickly joined by a fighter jet.
Lewis hit another chip that rolled back to her feet. She then chipped to the opposite fringe and two-putted for a seven.
Lewis’s nightmare on the back nine culminated with two water balls that led to a 10 on the par-5 18th.
Did the plane’s breach of the airspace above the course also trespass into the space between Lewis’s ears, hastening her unraveling? She declined to talk after her round — “No chance,” she said as she marched past reporters after signing her scorecard.
Kerr acknowledged that she had watched the scene unfold above her, but she suggested it was, if anything, a welcome distraction from the golf shots in front of her.
“I had to look at something else other than what was going on on that hole,” Kerr said, adding that it was “a shame” to see what happened to Lewis on the back nine.
“You never want to see that happen to anybody,” she said.
Kerr, the 2007 U.S. Open champion, was in such pain after her opening 69 that she told her husband, Erik Stevens, “I don’t know how much more I can go.” A few holes into her second-round 73, she appeared to be in such bad shape, Stevens said, that he sent texts to alert the tournament staff that Kerr might be withdrawing. But then Kerr, who started at No. 10, birdied both par 3s on the back nine and kept going.
“Birdies are as good as Advil sometimes,” Stevens joked.
Kerr offered this explanation: “pure insanity.”
“Just grit, just determination,” she said. “Like, any other tournament in the world, you would think about just going home, but not this one.”
On Saturday, Kerr was limber enough to execute a few jumping jacks on the green of the par-5 15th after one-putting to salvage par. She was trying to get the attention of the president, who was perched in his nearby suite. His attention was trained on the telecast on one of the suite’s flat-screen televisions, so he did not notice Kerr, who played an occasional round of golf with Trump before he became president, when they both had homes in New York and South Florida.
Kerr, who since has shifted her permanent home base to Scottsdale, Ariz., said, “I don’t see him that often, but he’s a huge supporter of women’s golf, and it’s just fun just going, ‘I know the president,’ you know?”
Despite all of the pretournament controversy about the United States Golf Association’s holding its most prestigious women’s championship at a Trump-owned property, the president’s presence appears not to have caused much reaction on the course, beyond an elevated noise level in the vicinity of his suite that irked some fans, according to Saturday’s White House pool reporter.
Trump arrived at his presidential box in the midafternoon and welcomed several visitors, including Paula Creamer, who did not make the cut, and Lexi Thompson, after she finished her round of 74.
Kerr’s walk from the green to the scoring area took her past Trump’s suite, and in contrast with her pass on the 15th green, this time he noticed her. He stood up and gave her two thumbs up and motioned that he wanted her to join him. After signing her scorecard and meeting with reporters, she headed for the presidential box, with her husband and her caddie trailing behind.
Kerr, 39, was admitted only after she spread her arms and was wanded by security. She also had to take off her cap to make sure she was not hiding anything. The extra fuss was worth it, Kerr said. Now that Trump is president, she said, “he’s really hard to get to.”
The leader, Feng, met her country’s president, Xi Jinping, last year during a reception for China’s Olympians. Feng, the bronze medalist in women’s golf at the Rio de Janeiro Games, noticed that Xi was shaking the athletes’ hands as if he were in a timed race.
She wanted more than a second of his attention, so when it was her turn, she took his hand in hers and told him, “President, you are so handsome,” she said.
Feng added: “He was shocked. He stepped back and then shook my hand again.”
If Feng becomes the tournament’s first wire-to-wire winner since Annika Sorenstam in 2006, she will no doubt meet Trump. Asked if she had given much thought to what she might say to him, Feng paused, and a puckish smile crossed her face.
“Do you want to talk about what I’m wearing tomorrow?” she asked.
An earlier version of this article misstated the surname of Cristie Kerr’s husband. He is Erik Stevens, not Stephens.
The article also misstated Kerr’s position in the rankings after the third round of the U.S. Women’s Open. She was tied for eighth, not seventh. In addition, the article misstated Kerr’s record on the back nine. She birdied on two holes, not on two par-3 holes.