The weather for a morning tee time Monday at Oak Marsh Golf Course was less than ideal for the occasion. Overcast skies, 44 degrees, gusty wind, pack a parka.
Folks in other states call this football weather. Here in Minnesota, it’s golf season, and a little spring chill probably felt like Malibu for those who rushed to book tee times after Gov. Tim Walz opened courses Friday in loosening COVID-19 restrictions.
“If it’s 40,” says recent retiree Jake Minnig, “I’m playing.”
Minnig loves golf. No, actually, he LOVES golf. He started playing seriously about seven years ago and now he keeps his calendar booked with tee times.
Minnig was among those who had phone in hand and began dialing minutes after the governor gave golf courses the green light. His group teed off at Loggers Trail in Stillwater less than 24 hours later.
“It was packed,” he says.
That scene played out at clubs throughout Minnesota. Oak Marsh general manager/director of golf Steve Whillock noted that his course had its two busiest back-to-back days ever (with single rider carts) over the weekend.
Minnig picked Monday to play Oak Marsh. One of his sons was supposed to join him but had to cancel, so he went solo and allowed me to tag along. I’m not a golfer, but the conversation and time spent outdoors were therapeutic.
Self-quarantine got to me last week. I felt cooped up and irritable. The inability to socialize with others — in person, even from a distance — is near the top of the reasons why I miss reporting on sports. Zoom as an interview tool is like drinking light beer when you’re craving an IPA.
Walking 18 holes with someone I had never met before Monday felt normal again. Heck, I even found myself jotting down notes about certain shots. (Minnig’s approach from 161 yards out on hole No. 4 landed 12 feet from the pin.)
Sorry, old habit.
Minnig is a card member of Public Country Club, which allows him to play more than 100 courses in Minnesota for a $55 monthly fee. The 65-year-old played 150 rounds last year. He visited a friend in Vegas last month and squeezed in 10 rounds in six days. He practices on simulators in the winter.
Minnig prefers to walk, not ride a cart, so he has taken long walks during stay-at-home to prepare. He usually plays with his three grown sons or other family members and friends.
Our conversation was delightful. We talked about our careers, our kids, and sports, of course. He grew up near Milwaukee and loves the Packers, especially Brett Favre.
Minnig worked in the printing industry before becoming a chauffeur for a limousine company. He picked up P.J. Fleck after he landed as the new Gophers football coach, and his passengers also included professional athletes and celebrities over the years.
He carries a 10-handicap and usually hits it straight off the tee, though his putting shows some rust. He flies through the front nine in only 90 minutes.
“That was a lot faster than Saturday,” he says.
The best part of golf, he says, is being outside. And being with family. He particularly enjoys playing with his boys.
“When else would I get 30-year-olds to hang out with me for four hours,” he says.
He flubs a few shots and his putter fails him in this round, but he never shows a reaction. Getting angry “takes the fun out of it,” he says.
Fun comes in a big way on the par-5 16th, “the hardest hole on the course,” he says.
He usually lays up short of a marshy area on his second shot. Too many lost balls trying to hit over it in the past.
“I contradicted myself,” he says, standing over his second shot. “I’m going for it.”
He crushes it, and his ball lands just off the green.
“Those kinds of shots bring you back,” he says. “It’s not so cold after all.”
“Helps to have a 20-mile-per-hour wind behind you,” he says with a laugh.
He’s still feeling good as he reaches his ball.
“That’s one I tell my kids and they’re like, ‘Sure, Dad,’ ” he says.
He’s got a witness, fellas.
Minnig doesn’t keep score. Maybe he will Tuesday when he plays again. He also has golf plans for Wednesday and Thursday. Life feels a little more normal again.
For a few hours Monday, it felt the same way for me, too.