PGA Tour returns to Minnesota as Koepka headlines 3M Open
BLAINE, Minn. (AP) — The last gathering of the world's greatest golfers in Minnesota led to a truly seminal moment when the U.S. team recaptured the Ryder Cup for the first time in eight years in front of raucous galleries at Hazeltine National.
The big-hitting Brooks Koepka coolly won three of his four matches. Phil Mickelson leaped into the air after a birdie putt on the final hole of his singles match. Patrick Reed followed his clutch shots with fist pumps, arm waves and a hand cupped to his ear to cajole a home crowd hardly needing more encouragement.
"That atmosphere was so cool," Koepka said.
Three years later, the stakes won't be nearly as high, the list of stars is a little shorter and the setting at the TPC Twin Cities will be a bit more subdued. But it is still a nice moment as the inaugural 3M Open this week marks the first regular PGA Tour stop in Minnesota since 1969.
"I have just a lot of fond memories here, and it fit really well into the schedule," Mickelson said after playing in the pro-am Wednesday. "I'm looking to this tournament to get a little bit of momentum heading into the summer stretch."
One of the first prominent players to commit to the 3M Open, Mickelson recalled his first experience in Minnesota as a 20-year-old amateur at the U.S. Open at Hazeltine in 1991. That course by famed designer Robert Trent Jones on rolling farmland in Chaska, about 25 miles southwest of downtown Minneapolis, also hosted the PGA Championship in 2002 and 2009 and then the Ryder Cup in 2016. Two weekends ago, the Women's PGA Championship was held there.
For a state with one of the shortest golfing seasons in the country, Minnesota has long fostered a passionate community surrounding the sport.
"They're just really nice people," said Mickelson, who is one of seven players ranked in the world's top 30 set to tee off in the first round Thursday.
Said Koepka: "I can't believe how many people are out on a Wednesday."
They will take on a course designed by Arnold Palmer and built on a former sod farm in Blaine, about 20 miles north of Minneapolis, that's heavy on water hazards and has been considerably lengthened and narrowed from the layout used for the PGA Champions Tour event it hosted from 2001-2018.
Under the renovation direction of Tom Lehman, who with fellow Minnesotan Tim Herron received an exemption to participate this week, the TPC Twin Cities will play as a par-71 at 7,468 yards. The goal was to produce a classic risk-reward setup with tight fairways, thick rough and fast greens. The 3M Open, which has a seven-year contract with the PGA Tour, will present four par-3 holes and three par-5s.
"We want birdies and train wrecks," said Hollis Cavner, the tournament's executive director, adding: "We feel very comfortable that this golf course is going to play hard and fast. It's going to play long. If we get wind, it's a game-changer."
Koepka, the top-ranked player in the world , has been joined in the 156-man field by Bryson DeChambeau (eighth), Tony Finau (17th), Jason Day (18th), Reed (25th), Mickelson (28th) and Keegan Bradley (29th). The purse is $6.4 million, with the winner getting $1.152 million and 500 FedEx Cup points .
Koepka entered the week trailing Matt Kuchar by 89 points for first place in the FedEx Cup standings in this newly condensed season that concludes with the Tour Championship and culmination of the FedEx Cup playoffs in late August. The 3M Open landed in the sweet spot between the U.S. Open and the British Open, an additional attraction for players eager to not only move up in the standings but to tackle a new set of tee boxes and pin placements. Nate Lashley, who won the inaugural Rocket Mortgage Classic in Detroit last weekend, is among the 3M Open participants.
"It's fun to play different golf courses," Koepka said. "You never know what you come across, what you might like."