Eight months later, the weather was again gorgeous on the Chaska countryside and Patrick Hunt was partnered with a friend, Rich Beem, for a Wednesday afternoon event at Hazeltine National.
Beem is an honorary member and for good reason: He held off Tiger Woods to win the 2002 PGA Championship at Hazeltine.
The Ryder Cup came to Hazeltine in the last week of September 2016 and concluded on the spectacular Sunday of Oct. 2. When it comes to major events received through a bidding process, this was the most successful in the Twin Cities’ major league era (1961-present).
All-Star Games in baseball, the NHL and the NBA. A pair of Final Fours. A Super Bowl. U.S. Opens and PGA Championships. Throw in a GOP National Convention.
None challenge the Ryder Cup for the astounding enthusiasm of the locals and the reviews received from media and other visitors.
The Ryder Cup was such a smash hit that Hunt doesn’t feel the need to brag about it in an interview. As the general chairman of the event, he can allow what happened over that early fall week to stand on its own.
“I think what makes it great is that we got the win,’’ Hunt said this week. “There are fantastic memories, but I don’t think they would be quite as fantastic if we didn’t get the win.’’
The United States had defeated Europe only twice in the previous 10 Ryder Cups, dating to 1995. Hazeltine did sacrifice some of its dignity as a severe test of golf in order to assist in the USA’s need for a victory.
Davis Love III was back as a U.S. captain. He had a superior roster of players, and he wanted this to be a competition based fully on talent and not on the Europeans’ notorious ability to grind through a match.
There was no rough worth concern, and it’s unlikely these masters of the game ever spent a Sunday firing at pins as friendly as those they saw at the Big H.
The birdies and roars came from all over during the 12 singles matches, the USA turned it into a 17-11 blowout and 50,000 people (or more) departed Hazeltine in what seemed to be close to universal delight.
Golf has the same problem with younger generations as does baseball: a slow pace that seems to get ever slower, requiring long minutes of patience before a potential payoff.
The Ryder Cup was different. You could get full of beer and chant “USA, USA,’’ and in some cases, insult the competition. It was the ultimate I-gotta-be-there event for modern sports fans.
It was our precursor to what’s going on right now in Nashville, where thousands of people who didn’t know a hockey puck from a fried pie two weeks ago, but love a good party, have turned into Preds psychotics.
They don’t have to be in the arena to be going goofy for hockey in Nashville, and galleries didn’t have to see the shots themselves to be going goofy for the Americans at Hazeltine.
What the Ryder Cup also did was raise the prestige of Hazeltine National to the heights of the great American golf courses. Nobody now remembers the Hazeltine of the ’70s; loved ones but probably few others think first of the tragic tornado of ’91, or gully-washing rains of other majors.
Followers of golf around the world now hear Hazeltine, and they think of birdie putts falling on magnificent autumn days, with tree-shaking roars in the background.
“Quite a few people from other parts of the country have told me: ‘I didn’t know you could have weather like that in Minnesota,’ ” Hunt said. “That’s the one thing we knew for sure we couldn’t control.’’
Hunt laughed slightly and said: “Minnesota came through with some of our amazing fall days.’’
Two decades ago, Jim Awtrey, the now-retired CEO of the PGA of America, approached Hazeltine and several other traditional courses that were frustrated in attempts to acquire future U.S. Opens. They wanted those courses to host PGAs, with the carrot of potentially hosting a Ryder Cup.
Hazeltine had two PGAs, and then the Ryder Cup. To show its further appreciation for the PGA of America, Hazeltine will host an announcement Friday that the club will be home to the 2019 KPMG Women’s PGA Championship.
After that, I’m guessing that Hazeltine’s goal is to get another U.S. Open. Those have been awarded through 2026, but even the USGA had to be dazzled by what it saw take place last fall in Chaska.
Hazeltine, once a ruined cornfield, is now a golf mecca as never before.