This is the 35th summer since what’s now the Champions Tour started as a tribute to nostalgia. The Twin Cities became a regular stop in 1993 and this event now ranks as the fourth-longest running tournament in one market on the senior circuit.
The tournament moved to the TPC Twin Cities in 2001 and became the 3M Championship. On Saturday, Hollis Cavner and Co. pulled out every nostalgic move in a golf bag, bringing in Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, Lee Trevino, Annika Sorenstam, Nancy Lopez and Pat Bradley as exhibition participants.
And, oh, yeah, there was one new guy — Jack William Nicklaus of Columbus, Ohio, and North Palm Beach, Fla. — making his first-ever appearance on behalf of this annual Twin Cities attraction.
The sporting public responded in numbers not seen for the senior event since the first couple of years at Bunker Hills. There was an actual traffic jam getting to the overflowing parking lots. The gallery was 30 deep around the first tee box, as first the ladies with Arnie as their captain teed off, and then Player, Trevino and Nicklaus.
There were grand ovations for all, and the loudest came last for Nicklaus.
“Thanks for coming, Jack,” someone shouted.
Nicklaus and Trevino, both 74, jumped in carts to pursue their drives, as Player, 78, walked off the tee and headed down the first fairway on foot.
On Friday, Bernhard Langer credited Player as his inspiration for a workout regimen that has Langer playing so well that he’s being talked up as a contender to play for Europe’s Ryder Cup team at age 57.
On Saturday, Player’s devotion to fitness was dramatized with the 5-foot-10, 165-pound frame of Chris Davis, a student and a golfer at Carroll College in Kenosha, Wis.
Five years ago, Davis was a 6-handicapper at Ingersoll Golf Course in Rockford, Ill. He was among the 400 youth players to be candidates for the Champions Tour’s First Tee event at Pebble Beach, and was one of the 48 selected.
Davis was paired with Tom Wargo. He met Player on the putting green.
“I weighed 215; I had been overweight most of my life,” Davis said. “I had a lot of good friends, and a few people who enjoyed teasing me about being fat. I wouldn’t go swimming because I didn’t want to make my shirt off in public. I handled most of it OK, but you get sick of it.”
Player gave Davis a couple of putting tips, but then looked at him and said: “Are you tired of being overweight … tired of being fat? We have to get you into fitness.”
Davis said: “I was shocked at first, but then Mr. Player started talking to me about how everything in life is so much better with fitness. We talked for 90 minutes, right there on the putting green.”
On Saturday morning, Davis and his parents, father George and mother Chris, met Player for breakfast in the clubhouse at TPC Twin Cities.
“I hadn’t seen him since that day at Pebble Beach,” Davis said. “I’ve lost 50 pounds through working out every day and changing my diet. Mr. Player looked at me and said, ‘I’m proud of you.’ ”
The Champions Tour: nostalgia, with a touch of inspiration on the side.
Nicklaus’ agreement to participate in Saturday’s exhibition portion of the 3M allowed it to be billed as a reunion of golf’s Big Three: Palmer, Nicklaus and Player. In actuality, Trevino came along in winning the U.S. Open in 1968 and turned it into a Big Four for a few years.
The only previous time all were on the same Minnesota course during a tournament was the 1970 U.S. Open at Hazeltine. Reviews for the eight-year-old course were savage, particularly when the wind blew 40 miles per hour and 69 of the 150 players failed to break 80 in the first round.
Trevino opened with a 77, Palmer 79, Player 80 and Nicklaus 81. Asked what he remembered of his first trip around Hazeltine, Nicklaus said:
“I don’t remember anything about it. That is, I don’t ‘want’ to remember anything about it.”
Palmer smirked and said, “I agree.”
Nicklaus looked at Player and Palmer and said: “That’s the only golf tournament I think I’ve been to where they had leaderboards with Arnold, Gary and me up there, no matter what we shot. Remember that? It was ridiculous.”
Hazeltine was remodeled and matured into the championship course envisioned. And there was nothing ridiculous aimed toward the Big Three plus Lee on Saturday — only adulation from a huge gathering of Minnesota golf fans.
Asked if the topic turns to past tournaments during reunions such as this, Nicklaus said:
“We’re trying to remember who each other are.”
Not Player. “Here we are at our ages, still playing this wonderful game …” Gary said. “We had a lot of great times together; it’s something we’ll always cherish.”
Nicklaus nodded and said, “Yeah, that’s close enough.”