As close to a Minnesotan as the LPGA currently gets, South Dakotan Kim Kaufman played plenty of junior tournaments in these here parts, but until Tuesday, she didn't get her first look at famed Hazeltine National Golf Club, site of June's KPMG Women's PGA Championship.
"I've played a lot of courses around here," she said, "but never Hazeltine or Interlachen."
The site of two men's U.S. Opens and two PGA Championships, two U.S. Women's Opens and a Ryder Cup, Hazeltine was covered by a crust of snow Tuesday, but even at first sight she knew well a course she has often seen on television.
"I told everyone right away: You can tell they've hosted majors before," said Kaufman, now a Texas resident who was raised a four-hour drive from Hazeltine straight west on Hwy. 212 in Clark, S.D.
It's what the LPGA and PGA of America aimed for when they partnered in 2014 with sponsor and auditing firm KPMG for a remade major championship, seeking to raise all boats on the women's tour by bringing it to historic men's championship venues.
The event so far has been played at Westchester (N.Y.) Country Club, Sahalee near Seattle and 2003 men's U.S. Open venue Olympia Fields outside Chicago. After Hazeltine, the event is scheduled for revered Aronimink near Philadelphia in 2020 and New Jersey's multiple men's major site Baltusrol in 2023.
The PGA of America last summer announced together the women's PGA and the 2029 men's PGA would be played at Baltusrol. They didn't do the same with the 2019 women's PGA and the Ryder Cup's 2028 return to Hazeltine, but, like Baltusrol, the two events are a package deal.
"They have raised the bar across the board," Kaufman said of the LPGA and PGA of America partnership. "It is the best tournament. They pushed the USGA [U.S. Golf Association] to be better. We're playing Hazeltine now, the U.S. Open is suddenly going to Pebble Beach [for the first time in 2023.] We're finally getting to play these great golf courses. The guys are always playing Hazeltine and Congressional. We were playing great courses, but nothing with the names like this: Suddenly, we're going to Hazeltine and we're going to Olympia Field and we're going to go to Baltusrol.
"That's fun. The courses are fantastic. The player dining is fantastic. We get a courtesy car. Everything we feel is more equal to what the guys get, which we don't get every week. They've pushed everyone to be better — and I'm not just saying that."
Kaufman looked around Hazeltine National on Tuesday while in town for media appearances and her turn at announcing "Let's Play Hockey" at the Wild game. She saw a vast expanse of what will be come June 18-23.
She looked out from a clubhouse she called "amazing" and saw the driving range to her right and the ninth and finishing 18th holes side-by-side in front of her in a state that always draws big crowds for major championship golf.
"They have room for everyone," Kaufman said. "I think the atmosphere will be great."
South Dakota-raised and college educated at Texas Tech, Kaufman is a sixth-year touring pro who has played her way back from mononucleosis that dampened the end of her 2017 season and into 2018. She has declared herself well, fit and ready for a 2019 season starting soon with a month's play in Australia. Like most players on tour, she'll have to qualify for this year's KPMG Women's PGA by playing well this season.
Her career winnings exceed $1.4 million, a long way from the oddly shaped prize she brought home to South Dakota from a junior tournament across the border when she was 8.
"I brought home this trophy/plaque and my parents said, 'Do you know what that is?' " Kaufman said. "They said, 'That's the state of Minnesota.' I had no idea. That's how I learned my geography, but I was just happy to get a trophy."