rydercupWe’ve known officially for 14 years that Hazeltine National would be host to three magnificent golf tournaments: the PGA Championship in 2002 and 2009 plus the Ryder Cup in 2016.

Those neat seven year increments are nice for symmetry. They’re even nicer as a marker for the passage of time. Having spent distinct amounts of time at Hazeltine in 2002 and 2009 — and starting to do so again this week — a couple things were striking while walking the grounds during Wednesday’s practice round:

*The evolution of technology, as seen through the lens of these three golf tournaments, is startling.

At the time of the first PGA at Hazeltine in 2002, there was no such thing as an iPhone. In fact, the first one wouldn’t be released for another five years. The gallery was decidedly analog — as was the Star Tribune’s coverage. Everything I did that week was geared toward the print section.

By 2009, the transition to a more digital age had begun. A sizable chunk of coverage had shifted to startribune.com and the expectations of fans at the event had shifted along with it.

But in 2016, technology is less of a mystery and more of a way of life. We are all amateur photographers — including several thousand smart phone toting golf fans on the course for this week’s early practice rounds. Giant video boards with amazing definition help folks on the course if they are standing at a bad angle, and if they need more help there’s an official app for the tournament. And the Star Tribune’s coverage is up-to-the-minute.

*The career arc of Tiger Woods as seen through 14 years is startling.

In 2002, Woods was a dominant 26-year-old who seemed destined to break some of golf’s most hallowed records. He finished second at the PGA to Rich Beem, but not before Tiger birdied the final four holes on Sunday to add to his legend. My assignment that week was to follow him everywhere for six rounds — two practice, four regulation.

By 2009, Woods was 33, had won 14 majors and still looked every bit like golf’s all-time great. He again finished second that year — this time to Y.E. Yang, after faltering in the final round. And again I followed him everywhere. A few months later, his personal life fell apart. His health started failing him.

And now here he is in 2016 — a vice captain for the U.S. Ryder Cup team but not a player in this year’s event. There’s no way one would have imagined in 2002 or 2009 that Tiger wouldn’t be one of the 12 best U.S. golfers in 2016, even at age 40. But he’s still stuck on 14 majors and has continued to battle a raft of injuries.

*If there’s a constant out here at Hazeltine, it’s the rhythm of the crowd and the sameness of the faces. Even at a much different tournament like the Ryder Cup — with its patriotism and relatively small number of golfers compared to the PGA — there is something very familiar about a Minnesota golf crowd, as well as the efficiency of the course layout amid the chaos of a snake comprised of thousands of human beings inching through it.

In other words, in big-time Minnesota golf as in life, so much has changed — but plenty remains the same.

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