The PGA Tour and Minnesota

Seven major champions and one U.S. Ryder Cup team have celebrated golf victories on Minnesota soil in the 49 years, 11 months and 22 days since a regular PGA Tour event has been conducted in this state. That changes Thursday with the inaugural 3M Open at TPC Twin Cities in Blaine.

From 1930 to ’69, the tour stopped in Minnesota 34 times, with nine players in that span counting a victory here along their way to the World Golf Hall of Fame.

In the beginning

The first St. Paul Open concluded two months after Bobby Jones won the U.S. Open — his fourth — at Interlachen. On Aug. 17, 1930, Harry “Light Horse” Cooper fended off the likes of golf legends Sam Snead, Walter Hagen and Tommy Armour to collect the $2,500 winner’s check out of a pool of $10,000 at Keller Golf Course, about 7 miles from the current 3M headquarters. Before the U.S. entered World War II, Cooper would win two more times while Horton Smith — known as winning two of the first three Masters — and Snead would also claim Twin Cities victories.

Chick Harbert and Dutch Harrison squared off in an 18-hole Monday playoff in 1942, with Harbert turning in a brilliant 6-under 66 to win by nine strokes.

Second wave

Following a two-year hiatus for the war, the St. Paul Open was back in 1945 and Harrison returned to Keller with revenge to win the renewed event by five shots. Three-time Masters champion Jimmy Demaret added to his Hall of Fame résumé with a win in 1948, in a playoff over Otto Greiner.

After another break in 1949 so Keller could host the Western Open — won that year by Snead — Lloyd Mangrum was the next big name to win in St. Paul. The World War II hero with two Purple Hearts received an anonymous phone call the night before the final round demanding he lose Sunday “if you want to get out of St. Paul alive.”

Mangrum, heavily guarded by St. Paul police and Ramsey County sheriffs, played undeterred and shot 2-under 70 to finish the tournament with a record 14-under 266.

“Golf is a clean game and it’s going to stay that way if I have anything to say about it,” Mangrum told Sid Hartman in the July 30, 1951 Minneapolis Tribune. “There isn’t enough money to make me throw a match.”

The first change

Three-time major champion and Ryder Cupper Cary Middlecoff (1952) and late bloomer Tommy Bolt (1955 at age 39) etched their names into St. Paul Open lore before the tournament changed to the St. Paul Invitational in 1957. That year, PGA Tour rookie Ken Venturi won his first career tournament by tying Mangrum’s 266 total score — some 10 shots better than a fellow named Arnold Palmer.

By 1965 the St. Paul Invitational purse had ballooned to $100,000 and Raymond Floyd collected the $20,000 winner’s check after holding off the likes of Tommy Aaron, Gene Littler, Jack Nicklaus and Palmer.

The final push

The tournament was renamed for a second time in 1966 and began to fall on hard times. The Minnesota Golf Classic took place the third weekend in July — one week after the British Open in Scotland and one week before the PGA Championship in Akron. As such, some of the PGA Tour’s biggest names — Nicklaus, Palmer, Venturi — were absent from the field.

The schedule woes continued. The week immediately following back-to-back majors in 1967, the week after the PGA Championship in San Antonio in 1968 and in 1969, as an opposite-field event held the same weekend as the British Open.

Frank Beard sank the final putt of the event’s history in the late afternoon of July 13, 1969. It capped a seven-stroke victory over Aaron and South African newcomer Hugh Inggs.

Thursday morning, history resumes.

BRIAN STENSAAS