Spectators by the thousands jammed slopes and skyboxes surrounding TPC Twin Cities’ watery 18th hole on a summer Sunday last July and roared when Bryson DeChambeau’s short eagle putt late in the afternoon seized the lead at the inaugural 3M Open.
Then they outdid themselves minutes later after rookie Matthew Wolff’s own eagle putt from the fringe 26 feet away in the final pairing trumped DeChambeau’s.
This week, the show goes on when the 3M Open returns to Blaine — but to satisfy health officials and PGA Tour executives, there will be no lucrative pro-ams, no paying spectators, few tents and toilets, all week long. No fans or pro-ams will be allowed through the Tour Championship in early September, and the first fans seen on site might be at the rescheduled U.S. Open run by the U.S. Golf Association two weeks after that.
Instead, camera towers erected across TPC Twin Cities will turn this seventh PGA Tour event after a three-month coronavirus pandemic shutdown into another made-for-TV event. Electronic scoreboards will dot the course, too.
3M officials revised a detailed proposal submitted to state officials in May that would have allowed 6,000 fans maximum on site and instead last month proceeded with a plan that allows only 1,200 people — players, caddies, officials, staff, TV crews, media, volunteers — needed to stage it outdoors over 250 physical-distancing acres.
Tournament Executive Director Hollis Cavner said the tour came “very close” to moving the event this year to a Florida club near players’ Atlantic Coast homes but credited the title sponsor for keeping it home.
“This is about 3M wanting to do something really great for Minnesota,” Cavner said. “It’s still going to be a great TV show, shown worldwide. It’s still a chance to showcase Minnesota in a great way.”
Quiet on the set
A sport quieter than any other nonetheless defines its greatest moments by deafening sound that in a setting such as Augusta National Golf Club rattles the pines and ripples the pond down at Amen Corner.
On Thursday, the great Tiger Woods walked accompanied only by his caddie and one other figure to Muirfield Village’s first tee, his cleats clearly clattering on a cart path during television coverage from Jack Nicklaus’ Memorial Tournament in Dublin, Ohio.
Winner of 15 majors and 82 PGA Tour events, he has drawn galleries and applause since he was a child. At the Memorial, he played in mostly silence.
“I haven’t felt this in a while,” Woods told reporters Thursday after he played his first tour round since February that still included media photographers rustling to track him.
Major champions Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka and Bubba Watson will do the same this week at the 3M. So, too, will world No. 12 Tommy Fleetwood, No. 19 Tony Finau and defending champ Wolff.
Johnson won in silence down the stretch in the tour’s third tournament back last month at the Travelers in Connecticut, extending his streak of a PGA Tour event won to 13 consecutive years.
“It felt exactly the same as if there would have been a million people or none, like it was,” Johnson said Tuesday at his Memorial news conference. “It’s still a big tournament, and you know everyone at home is watching. You could feel it, for sure.”
Yet it’s unmistakably different, unlike anything tour players have experienced except for a round once or twice when storm damage kept spectators away for a day.
Most tour golfers don’t play before large galleries, so to many it’s all the same to them.
“To be quite frank, I’m not Rory McIlroy or Dustin Johnson, yet, where I’ve got 10,000 people waiting for me on the first tee,” said former Gopher and 42nd-ranked Erik van Rooyen, who will play the 3M Open on a sponsor’s exemption. “That happens over the weekend at major championships. That’s different. … I’m quite used to this, but it’s quiet and I miss the fans. It’s a great vibe when there’s a lot of fans. I can’t wait for that.”
The new reality
A 12-time tour and 2017 PGA Championship winner, world No. 3-ranked Justin Thomas terms this new normal “weird,” particularly in the first two tournaments back when he contended.
Thomas missed the “adrenaline rush” those first two events and at last Sunday’s Workday Charity Open, also played at Muirfield Village. He dueled Collin Morikawa all day into a three-hole playoff he lost despite a sloping, breaking 50-foot putt he made that should have won it. Morikawa made a putt from 25 feet on top of his in the silence and then won the next hole.
“Just feeling that buzz and knowing that if I make this putt, the guys behind me and guys in front of me are going to hear a roar,” Thomas said Tuesday at a Memorial Tournament news conference. “It’s little stuff like that that’s different. You’ve got to get used to it.”
Only Thomas’ “Come on” shout — “You heard the roar and it was J.T. himself,” CBS’ Jim Nantz observed — and a smattering of applause from the hillsides broke the silence when Thomas’ putt on the second playoff hole dropped.
Woods watched on his computer at home in Florida.
“He’s screaming, but no one else is screaming,” said Woods, who’s not playing the 3M Open. “When Collin makes it, the whole hillsides on 18 would have just erupted. I’ve been there when they’re throwing drinks toward the green, people screaming, high-fiving, running around through bunkers. That’s all gone. That’s our new reality we’re facing.”
Woods said he and other tour players are trying to decide how close they can be to their caddies and how they’ll modify a tradition such as the postgame handshake. World No. 1 McIlroy calls it “very hard for me to keep focus out here” when familiar courses now seem like big, empty spaces they’ve never explored.
“When there’s that atmosphere, it’s easy to get into that mind-set,” said McIlroy, who’s not playing in Blaine. “That’s what we’re used to. That’s what we do.”
Woods himself might be deciding how to motivate himself with the roars gone.
“Just the energy is different,” Woods said. “There’s nothing to feed off. You make a big putt or a big par or a big chip and there’s no one there.”
Nicklaus will be there at Sunday’s end to congratulate the Memorial winner as he always does.
Some things will never change.
“I’m going to walk right out there and shake their hand,” Nicklaus said Tuesday in Dublin. “If they don’t want to shake my hand, that’s fine. I’ll give them a fist bump or elbow bump.”
Staff writer Brian Stensaas contributed to this report.