Tom Lehman hit the fairway with his customary draw, then handed his driver headcover to Jodi Hultgren and gave her a hug. “It’s always a pleasure to come to the fifth hole,” he said. “Thank you for everything.”
The headcover read: “Jodi: You’re #1. Thank you from the bottom of my stomach. God Bless, Tom Lehman.”
For 14 years Hultgren has worked at the 3M Championship. For the past 12, she has baked goodies for the players, caddies and volunteers who pass through the fifth tee box.
Sunday, she posted a sign near her table. It read: “Going out of business sale.”
The 3M Championship has staged its last round. Next year the PGA’s 3M Open will replace it at TPC Twin Cities in Blaine, so Sunday’s round felt nostalgic and, for Lehman, poignant.
His daughter Holly caddied for him, carrying a “Minnesota Golf” bag that Lehman breaks out for the 3M. His brother Jim followed him. He adorned his woods with Hazeltine Ryder Cup headcovers, one of which he gave to Hultgren.
The greatest male golfer in Minnesota history may have played his last professional round in Minnesota. “Yeah, I guess it’s very possible,” he said. “I don’t know what the future is going to hold.
“I was thinking about that as I was over that 4-iron on the last hole. You know, this is 195 to the front, if the wind’s hurting at all, this 4-iron’s going to go splash. I don’t want my very last hole ever in Minnesota to end up in the drink.”
He “crushed” the shot, which landed on the front of the green. He two-putted for a birdie, a round of 69 and a tie for 10th place, nine shots behind winner Kenny Perry.
“If that was my last hole ever and I made a birdie, I feel good about that,” Lehman said.
If you care about Minnesota golf you probably know his story, because it’s a great story.
He grew up in Alexandria and played for the Gophers. For years, his career resembled a driving-range shank. He kicked around on mini-tours all over the globe, accepted a teaching pro job and may have accepted the Minnesota golf coaching position for $29,000 if the university hadn’t insisted he run the ski shop on the side.
Lehman became a world No. 1, won the British Open, played on three Ryder Cup teams and served as an assistant captain and local-knowledge resource when the U.S. took back the cup at Hazeltine two years ago.
Now he will work on turning the TPC into a course that can challenge if not daunt PGA Tour pros, and mull a career in broadcasting. At the British Open, he proved to be an outstanding analyst — incisive, funny, honest and smooth.
“The thing that’s nice about that is you get to stay connected to the PGA Tour and to the young guys,” he said. “You have a way to influence people’s thinking about certain players, about the way they go about their business, about golf courses, about competition.
“There’s a lot of responsibility that would come into play for a guy like Johnny Miller in his position, but there’s also an opportunity to have a big influence on the way people perceive the game. That definitely appeals to me.”
At the beginning of a conversation by the 18th green, Lehman spoke of hitting his last shot as a pro in his home state. Later he was asked if he would consider playing in the 3M Open.
“If I was invited, I would probably think about it, yeah,” he said. “With that said, I’ve got to rethink that whole strategy of the renovation, to give myself a chance.”
He joked about designing fairways that would be generous for a 59-year-old and minuscule for young bombers. At least, he seemed to be joking.
“I’m still going to have a wide fairway, and those guys are going to have a lot narrower one,” he said with a smile. “It is something to think about.”
Jim Souhan’s podcast can be heard at MNSPN.com. On Twitter: @SouhanStrib. firstname.lastname@example.org