There has been amazement expressed by U.S. and international visitors at the size of the crowds for Ryder Cup practice rounds at Hazeltine National.
On Tuesday, the first day of practice, Hazeltine and the PGA of America estimated attendance at 37,000. Patrick Hunt, the chairman of the event for Hazeltine, was told that this was 10,000 more than had ever attended a Ryder Cup practice round.
The crowd was somewhat smaller on Wednesday, but then it was huge again on Thursday for the final practice round.
Obviously, all those amazed by the crowds driven by enthused Minnesotans were not aware of the most-astounding moment in history of golf attendance – here or anywhere else on the universe.
The 1991 U.S. Open was played here and became Hazeltine’s redemption for its first, much-ridiculed Open in 1970. The ’91 Open went to a playoff between Payne Stewart and Scott Simpson.
These 18-hole Monday playoffs of the past had produced crowds of a few thousand elsewhere, so the USGA did not issue special tickets. If you had a ticket from Sunday, you could get in by showing that.
The USGA expected 5,000, maybe a few more. This is the hunk of my next-day column in the Star Tribune what actually happened on that Monday, June 17:
(Note: Scott Simpson had been hitting the ball terribly, so this first graph of this excerpt was a tribute to his terrible play – shooting a 78 compared to Stewart’s winning but unimpressive 75).
ON THE PAR-3 17TH, an 182-yarder into the tree-lined swale, Simpson jerked a 4-iron off the hill to the left of the green. Simpson had let his club fall from his hands before the ball hit the mound and bounced into a pond, adding a dented sunfish to his toll of Hazeltine's creatures.
Speaking of creatures: Are we Minnesotans the goofiest mammals on the planet or what?
There had been 52 threesomes on Thursday and Friday, and 32 ½ twosomes on Saturday and Sunday. With a whole field and action on 18 holes for the most of the day, it was danged near impossible to get a decent view of some golf. The acres were crawling with more than 40,000 spectators, maneuvering for the spots in the bleachers or the high ground.
Yesterday, there was a single twosome teeing off at 12:30 p.m. There were 15,000 cars in the parking lot and an estimated 35,000 people on the grounds. This does not work mathematically, logistically or logically.
"I went around this morning to unlock the boxes (for numbers) at the leaderboards," one volunteer said. "I got to No. 16 at 10:45 and there were 30 people in the bleachers, maybe more."
The volunteer jokingly asked what they were doing there, and received an indignant reply. "They said they wanted a good seat," the volunteer said.
Stewart and Simpson made it to the fairway on No. 16 at 4:30 p.m. Thus, we have confirmation that Minnesotans waited more than 5 1/2 hours to see Stewart and Simpson make their approach shots and do their putting on the now-famous 16th. Not only did they wait 5 1/2 hours to see what turned out to be two approaches and four putts, they felt it was reasonable to do so.
On No. 17, two women arrived three hours before Stewart and Simpson reached the tee. They positioned themselves in the bleachers, toward the right side of the green. Simpson's decisive shot came in left, hitting on the mound, beyond the viewpoint of these early arrivers.
"Where did it go?" one woman said.
"I couldn't tell either," her companion replied.
We have had the Vikings' four trips to the Super Bowl. We have had several regrettable football meetings between the Gophers and Nebraska.
The Monday playoff at the 1991 Open now stands as the most embarrassing moment in Minnesota sports history. To have 35,000 people show up to watch a twosome play golf - and then expect they might see something - shows the whole world we are saps, but what do we care?
"This is Minnesota," a Hazeltine member said. "The people would have thought they were being impolite if they weren't here for the playoff."
I believe it. It didn't make any difference if it was Simpson and Stewart, or Steve Gotsche and Ed Humenik, there would have been 35,000 out there, hanging from the trees.
We're Minnesotans, we're goofy and we're proud of it.