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Patrick Reusse has been covering sports in the Twin Cities since 1968.

Huge practice crowds no surprise to Minnesotans who recall 6-17-91

There has been amazement expressed by U.S. and international visitors at the size of the crowds for Ryder Cup practice rounds at Hazeltine National.

On Tuesday, the first day of practice, Hazeltine and the PGA of America estimated attendance at 37,000. Patrick Hunt, the chairman of the event for Hazeltine, was told that this was 10,000 more than had ever attended a Ryder Cup practice round.

The crowd was somewhat smaller on Wednesday, but then it was huge again on Thursday for the final practice round.

Obviously, all those amazed by the crowds driven by enthused Minnesotans were not aware of the most-astounding moment in history of golf attendance – here or anywhere else on the universe.

The 1991 U.S. Open was played here and became Hazeltine’s redemption for its first, much-ridiculed Open in 1970. The ’91 Open went to a playoff between Payne Stewart and Scott Simpson.

These 18-hole Monday playoffs of the past had produced crowds of a few thousand elsewhere, so the USGA did not issue special tickets. If you had a ticket from Sunday, you could get in by showing that.

The USGA expected 5,000, maybe a few more. This is the hunk of my next-day column in the Star Tribune what actually happened on that Monday, June 17:

(Note: Scott Simpson had been hitting the ball terribly, so this first graph of this excerpt was a tribute to his terrible play – shooting a 78 compared to Stewart’s winning but unimpressive 75).

ON THE PAR-3 17TH, an 182-yarder into the tree-lined swale, Simpson jerked a 4-iron off the hill to the left of the green. Simpson had let his club fall from his hands before the ball hit the mound and bounced into a pond, adding a dented sunfish to his toll of Hazeltine's creatures.

Speaking of creatures: Are we Minnesotans the goofiest mammals on the planet or what?

There had been 52 threesomes on Thursday and Friday, and 32 ½ twosomes on Saturday and Sunday. With a whole field and action on 18 holes for the most of the day, it was danged near impossible to get a decent view of some golf. The acres were crawling with more than 40,000 spectators, maneuvering for the spots in the bleachers or the high ground.

Yesterday, there was a single twosome teeing off at 12:30 p.m. There were 15,000 cars in the parking lot and an estimated 35,000 people on the grounds. This does not work mathematically, logistically or logically.

"I went around this morning to unlock the boxes (for numbers) at the leaderboards," one volunteer said. "I got to No. 16 at 10:45 and there were 30 people in the bleachers, maybe more."

The volunteer jokingly asked what they were doing there, and received an indignant reply. "They said they wanted a good seat," the volunteer said.

Stewart and Simpson made it to the fairway on No. 16 at 4:30 p.m. Thus, we have confirmation that Minnesotans waited more than 5 1/2 hours to see Stewart and Simpson make their approach shots and do their putting on the now-famous 16th. Not only did they wait 5 1/2 hours to see what turned out to be two approaches and four putts, they felt it was reasonable to do so.

On No. 17, two women arrived three hours before Stewart and Simpson reached the tee. They positioned themselves in the bleachers, toward the right side of the green. Simpson's decisive shot came in left, hitting on the mound, beyond the viewpoint of these early arrivers.

"Where did it go?" one woman said.

"I couldn't tell either," her companion replied.

We have had the Vikings' four trips to the Super Bowl. We have had several regrettable football meetings between the Gophers and Nebraska.

The Monday playoff at the 1991 Open now stands as the most embarrassing moment in Minnesota sports history. To have 35,000 people show up to watch a twosome play golf - and then expect they might see something - shows the whole world we are saps, but what do we care?

"This is Minnesota," a Hazeltine member said. "The people would have thought they were being impolite if they weren't here for the playoff."

I believe it. It didn't make any difference if it was Simpson and Stewart, or Steve Gotsche and Ed Humenik, there would have been 35,000 out there, hanging from the trees.

We're Minnesotans, we're goofy and we're proud of it.

Reusse: Sports proving again and again how they can impact us

It has been a staple of American sports writing for decades: When there are dramatic events (primarily tragic) in the world or our region, we like to embrace humility and suggest we are working for the “toy department’’ of a news outlet, that it’s sports and it doesn’t really matter that much.

I’ve been writing columns since 1979 and I’m sure there are some among the thousands where those clichés were embraced.

I’ve decided over the last week that this has been wrong all along. Sports touch so many people in so many different ways that they are gigantically important.

We’re not comparing this to terrorist attacks and heinous crimes. We’re talking about what’s important in people’s everyday lives. And, sports here and elsewhere rarely have seemed more important than in the past week.

It started last Thursday with the death of Walter Bush at age 86. Bush had more to do with bringing the NHL to Minnesota than anyone. He was the lead person in the group that landed an expansion franchise in February 1966, and then was president for the North Stars for a decade.

Minnesotans reveled in having an NHL team. That was not always obvious with attendance during the down years, but it became clear after Norm Green moved the franchise to Dallas after the 1993 season.

It took seven years for us to get an NHL team on the ice again. From the outset, people have supported the Wild in a style to assure that Minnesota never will be without a NHL team again.

It was Walter Bush’s vision that gave Minnesota the taste of the NHL that is now irresistible.

On Sunday, we had a double dose of sports importance: the tragic death of Miami pitcher Jose Fernandez, 24, in a boating accident, and the death of Arnold Palmer, the man who was golf’s first hero of the TV age, at 87.

Reading and watching the level of anguish in South Florida over the young pitcher’s death was remarkable. Reading and hearing the tributes from the golf world for Palmer has been a reminder of how much influence one person can have on people through sport.

Arnie’s Army. It was real.

We also learned again that sports has fate. It really does. We saw that twice in 24 hours in baseball.

The Marlins cancelled Sunday’s game with Atlanta in the wake of Fernandez’s death. Play resumed Monday night in Miami with all of the Marlins wearing replicas of Fernandez’s No. 16 jersey.

Dee Gordon was the leadoff hitter in the bottom of the first. He homered. He cried. Everyone cried.

Also Monday, Cardinals shortstop Aledmys Diaz flew to Miami to be with Fernandez’s family. Diaz and Fernandez had grown up on the same street in Cuba before defecting.

Diaz returned to St. Louis on Tuesday. He was an emotional mess because of his friend’s death, but decided to play. He hit his first grand slam in the big leagues in the fourth inning to bring the Cardinals from behind in what became a 13-5 victory.

There was a little fate involved with Arnie’s death, also. He died at the start of Ryder Cup week, putting a large share of the world’s best golfers in one place – Hazeltine National – to pay tribute.

There were an estimated 37,000 fans at the course for Tuesday’s first practice round. They were swarming the gigantic merchandise building to the point that it was closed briefly because of overcrowding.

Yup. Too many people give their all (including credit cards) to sports for it to be meaningless in the big picture.

I mean, were you watching as Vin Scully had a tape played of him singing “Wind Beneath My Wings’’ to his wife as his Dodger Stadium sendoff on Sunday?

He was an L.A. play-by-play man who I met once, and I was sniffling in the TV den in Golden Valley.

Sentimental, tragic, sad, grand (slam) ... sports are great.

TV Listings

Local Schedule

< >
  • Twins at Kansas City

    6:15 pm on FSN, 96.3-FM

  • Wild at Winnipeg (preseason)

    7 pm on NHLN, 100.3-FM

  • Phoenix at Lynx

    7 pm on ESPNEWS, 106.1-FM

  • Lindenwood at Gophers women's hockey

    7:07 pm

  • Twins at Chicago White Sox

    7:10 pm on FSN, 96.3-FM

  • Lindenwood at Gophers women's hockey

    2:07 pm

  • Gophers football at Penn State

    2:30 pm on BTN, 100.3-FM

  • Twins at Chicago White Sox

    6:10 pm on FSN, 96.3-FM

  • Jacksonville at Minnesota United FC

    7 pm on Ch. 29

  • Twins at Chicago White Sox

    2:10 pm on FSN, 96.3-FM

  • Lynx at Phoenix

    4 pm on ESPN, 106.1-FM

  • Carolina at Wild (preseason)

    5 pm on 100.3-FM

  • N.Y. Giants at Vikings

    7:30 pm on ESPN, 100.3/1130

  • Wild at Colorado (preseason)

    8 pm on 100.3-FM

  • Minnesota United FC at Tampa Bay

    6:30 pm on Ch. 29

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Today's Scoreboard

  • Arizona

    Washington

     

    - F

    3

    5

  • Cleveland

    Detroit

     

    - Delayed

    0

    0

  • Boston

    NY Yankees

    6:05 PM

  • Chicago Cubs

    Pittsburgh

    6:05 PM

    WGN

  • Baltimore

    Toronto

    6:07 PM

  • Philadelphia

    Atlanta

    6:10 PM

  • Minnesota

    Kansas City

    6:15 PM

    FSN

  • Cincinnati

    St. Louis

    6:15 PM

  • Tampa Bay

    Chicago White Sox

    7:10 PM

  • LA Dodgers

    San Diego

    8:10 PM

  • Oakland

    Seattle

    9:10 PM

  • Colorado

    San Francisco

    9:15 PM

  • Miami

    Cincinnati

    7:25 PM

    NFL

No NBA games today

  • Nashville

    Columbus

    6:00 PM

  • New Jersey

    NY Rangers

    6:00 PM

  • Buffalo

    Toronto

    6:00 PM

  • Ottawa

    Montreal

    6:30 PM

  • Florida

    Tampa Bay

    6:30 PM

  • Minnesota

    Winnipeg

    7:00 PM

No MLS games today