Don Berry's PGA Minnesota Senior Open Championship playoff victory and $1,000 payday Wednesday at Keller Golf Course proved that not only is the check in the mail, but the trophy is, too, in this age of the coronavirus pandemic.
Championship golf returned to Minnesota for the two-day PGA Minnesota Senior Open — the first championship event held in this reconfigured season by the PGA of America Minnesota section or the Minnesota Golf Association.
The event, which endured a long storm delay Tuesday, featured an 88-player field — smaller than the 112-player fields in past years — and with precautions taken to ensure physical distancing and eliminate "touch points" as much as possible that could spread the virus.
PGA section officials wore masks on a 90-degree day and the two rounds were played without caddies, spectators, rakes in the bunkers, water coolers on the course and, as Berry experienced, no award ceremony to eliminate a gathering of people.
He drove back to work at Edinburgh USA golf course in Brooklyn Park without the trophy after beating Mendakota Country Club pro Dale Jones with a birdie on the first playoff hole.
Winner of the event for the seventh time in the past nine years, Berry will receive another handsome silver chalice and the check — by post.
"I'm not sure where they all are," said Berry, the reigning PGA Minnesota section Player of the Year for a 17th time. "I think they're in my office and somewhere in my house."
There was a limit at Keller on the number of golfers allowed on the driving range or practice putting green at one time. Participants also were advised to arrive no more than 45 minutes before their tee times and leave promptly after rounds.
A device on each flagstick removes the ball without a golfer needing touch the flagstick or the cup after they hole a putt.
Scorecards, pencils and hole-location sheets were eliminated as well. Tournament scoring systems are going electronic, as the MGA has done at events the past two years — with players recording their scores in real time on their smartphones.
Gone, too, on the two starting holes were the usual tees, markers, printed local rules, water and fruit — what Hazeltine pro Mike Barge calls "all the condiments" — but hand sanitizer was available.
The PGA Minnesota section and MGA canceled a few tournaments and delayed others until later in summer or fall. The PGA's venerable Tapemark Pro-Am will be played in September rather than June and the USGA canceled all its qualifying tournaments for the men's and women's U.S. Opens, U.S. Amateurs and other national championships run by the MGA.
The MGA's first championship is its Women's Match Play at the Wilds in two weeks.
"We told them we could run recreational golf and we've done that," MGA executive director/CEO Tom Ryan said, referring to state officials. "We told them we can run a championship. We will and we'll do a good job. The players, it's on you now to do the right thing."
Players who chose to do so printed out their own scorecard and hole-location sheet at home off the section site before they drove alone to Keller.
New technologies — Zoom calls, anyone? — have emerged or been popularized during this pandemic, which begs the question: Is this the beginning of the end for those little pencils and paper scorecards?
"Not for me," Berry said. "I printed mine out. The last thing I need is my phone on the golf course."
Normally a walker who carries his own bag, Berry used a pushcart because he carried extra water on a hot day.
Many of those precautions had already been taken by local golf courses after Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz allowed them opened in April if they took safety measures that Minnesota golf organizations proposed, all intended to stop the virus' spread. Those included greens-fee payments made online and plexiglass erected at some courses to separate golfers from course staff.
Competitive golf was allowed starting two weeks ago in a sport that Berry calls in a "renaissance" with filled tee sheets at courses in the metro area.
"It's unbelievable how busy we've been at Edinburgh," Berry said. "There's nothing else to do. When this goes away, if even 25 percent of people who have played all this golf say, 'This was fun, I'm going to play some more,' golf will be in a good spot."