3M Open tournament staff returned to work Monday morning by entertaining 35 corporate sponsors in a golf outing at TPC Twin Cities mere hours after a tearful Michael Thompson was crowned champion in a year unlike any other.
About 100 people gathered around the dangerous 18th hole Sunday and watched Thompson make birdie with a 14-foot putt that won the tournament by two strokes. It was his second PGA Tour victory — and his first since the 2013 Honda Classic — in a made-for-TV tournament held without spectators or lucrative pro-ams because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
On Monday, tournament organizers looked forward to a more normal 2021, when the 3M Open will be held July 19-25 — the same slot as this year.
“We’ll celebrate the past week,” tournament director Mike Welch said. “But if they’re expecting we’re not going to talk renewals today, they’re mistaken because we’re working it for business for next year already today.”
The 3M Open played on after PGA Tour officials considered canceling or moving the event to a course in Florida. Support from title sponsor 3M and corporate partners, as well as donations from vendors, made it financially feasible for the show to go on. A commitment to raise $1.5 million for eight major charity partners — primarily those this year focused on people impacted by coronavirus or fighting for social-justice initiatives — weighed heavily as well.
Tournament employees arranged 13 video conference calls between corporate partners and players all week in lieu of Monday and Wednesday pro-ams, in which big money is paid to play alongside a PGA Tour player. They also had done so last spring early during the pandemic break. About 75 people did one with defending champion Matthew Wolff on his 21st birthday in April.
“If we can’t have pro-ams, which is a lifeblood of this tournament, how can we keep that engagement between sponsors and players?” Welch asked. “We did that all week in a 30-minute version of what normally would be a five-hour pro am.”
The 3M Open was held without spectators and without the usual village of erected corporate boxes and tenting. It was held with 300 volunteers, not 1,800. Roars didn’t rise on a normal final-round Sunday. Birdsong and fans cheering good shots from backyard decks provided this year’s soundtrack instead.
“It was about as unique circumstances as you could have,” Welch said.
The 2020 3M Open was scheduled for the week after the British Open and before the Tokyo Olympics golf competition. Tour officials remade the schedule after the pandemic suspended play for three months. When it resumed in June, the revised schedule kept the 3M Open in the same dates, but put it a week behind Jack Nicklaus’ Memorial tournament, a week ahead of a World Golf Championship in Memphis and two weeks ahead of the season’s first major, the PGA Championship.
Three of the world’s top 12 ranked players — and six of the top 30 — chose to play, but Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka and Tommy Fleetwood all were gone by Friday night. The rest who didn’t play opted to take a week’s re©st in a condensed schedule while Wolff and a few others played for the ninth consecutive week since the restart.
“I love this place,” Wolff said. “The volunteers, everyone. Everyone who helped to put this tournament on, thank you.”
Wolff was one of three college stars whom 3M Open executive director Hollis Cavner offered a sponsor’s exemption last year. Wolff returned to defend his title and tied for 12th, five shots back. Two-time tour winner Collin Morikawa and Viktor Hovland wrote apologetic notes explaining why they couldn’t return to play a risk-reward course that surrendered birdies in bunches but also ruined rounds with its water and wind.
The 3M Open will charter a plane to bring players committed to play back from the British Open in 2021. Welch called himself “very confident” next year’s tournament will draw a strong field because the course is fair, beautiful and players and caddies are treated well. He’s also hopeful golf-crazed Minnesotans will come and cheer in big numbers once again.
“We hope this is the only time we’re doing this,” Welch said. “We don’t know what this is going to look like in a year, but I give a lot of credit to players for understanding.”