The 2019 NCAA Division I men’s golf tournament was held in late May in Fayetteville, Ark. Matthew Wolff, a 20-year-old sophomore from Oklahoma State, was the individual winner by five strokes.
Collin Morikawa, a 22-year-old University of California graduate, finished in a tie for sixth, 10 strokes behind Wolff. Viktor Hovland, 21, and the other sophomore star for Oklahoma State, finished 14 strokes back in a tie for 15th.
Hollis Cavner has been involved in collegiate golf events in his role as CEO of Pro Links Sports. As Wolff, Morikawa and Hovland were finishing their college careers in Arkansas, Cavner was five weeks from bringing back a weekly PGA Tour event to Minnesota with the first 3M Open at TPC Twin Cities.
Cavner was quick to offer sponsor’s exemptions to Wolff, Morikawa and Hovland. “Golf is in great shape with the talent and character of these young guys we have, and we wanted to make sure we gave Minnesota fans a chance to see these three right away,’’ Cavner said Monday.
Wolff had received one exemption as an amateur and was playing his third PGA Tour event as a pro in the 2019 3M Open. Morikawa had qualified for the U.S. Open, and also was playing his third PGA Tour event on that Fourth of July weekend in Blaine.
Hovland, a Norwegian and perhaps Europe’s next superstar, was the 2018 U.S. Amateur champion and thus gained 2019 entry into the Masters, U.S. Open, British Open and a couple of other events. The 3M Open was also Hovland’s third PGA Tour event as a pro.
Cavner had gotten to know Wolff, Morikawa and Hovland at college tournaments earlier in their careers, and quickly offering those sponsor’s exemptions proved a bonanza for the initial 3M Open.
Wolff made an eagle on the 72nd hole to finish 21-under and beat Morikawa and the pre-Bluto version of Bryson DeChambeau by a stroke. Hovland finished tied for 15th at 15-under.
The 2020 portion of the PGA Tour, shut down during the Players Championship in mid-March, returned in mid-June with a reshuffled schedule and no fans, and creating hectic schedules for players leading up to the second 3M Open in late July.
Cavner knew in June that he wasn’t going to have fans, and was told a month in advance by the PGA Tour that the lucrative pro-ams preceding the 3M also were cancelled.
No fans, no on-course corporate hospitality areas, no pro-ams … it’s a fairly good guess that Cavner wasn’t his usual aggressive self in convincing players to tee it up in Blaine. Those chits a tournament boss might have at his disposal might be better-used when the public can be watching other than on television.
Morikawa and Hovland were not in the field. Wolff returned to defend his title and finished at 15-under and tied for 12th.
As was reported at the time, Morikawa mailed a note to Cavner, explaining his decision not to play in the 2020 3M Open.
“Hand-written, and great penmanship,’’ Cavner said Monday, with a laugh. “He’s just a great young man. We exchange texts quite often. When he was up there on leaderboard at the first of the two events at Muirfield Village last month, I sent him a text saying, ‘Just go out and beat ‘em up today,’ and got a quick thank you for that.’’
Morikawa did that, beating Justin Thomas on the third playoff holem of the Workday Charity tournament.
On Sunday, Cavner was at his home in Florida, watching the PGA Championship with Nick Price and his wife Sue, and Cece Davis. Her husband, Mike Davis, the CEO of the USGA, was at Harding Park in San Francisco, attending the final round of the PGA Championship – golf’s first major in the Year of COVID.
Morikawa had played great on Sunday to get his first win in the Workday, and now he played great on another Sunday, to win a major at age 23.The little fade that Morikawa hit
on No. 16, laid out to be a drivable par-4, was a shot for the ages … setting up a 7-foot eagle putt to get Morikawa to what would be a winning 13-under.
“I’ve been to Harding Park a few times,’’ Cavner said. “That’s a great tee shot, but I was as impressed by Collin walking up and knocking in the putt, knowing that it would win the tournament for him.
“Nick Price was blown away watching this kid. He said, ‘I love the fact he plays the game with that easy smile. It says something about his attitude.’ ‘’
Morikawa shot a 6-under 64 on Sunday to finish at 13-under. Wolff shot a 5-under 65 on Sunday to finish in a tie for fourth at 10-under. Hovland shot a 4-unde 66 on Sunday to finish in tie for 33rd at 2-under.
“We’re going to see those young men again at the 3M Open,’’ Cavner sad. “That’s going to happen. And there are more good ones – with a chance to be great – on the way.
"We all love Tiger and Phil, but as I said, golf is in great shape with this new wave … and Collin’s at front and center right now.’’