Live sports returned to Minnesota on Thursday. The first round of the 3M Open occurred at TPC Twin Cities, and the few of us who were allowed on site witnessed golf without so much as a golf clap.
There were no cheers when Tony Finau hit one stiff on No. 16, and there were no groans when Dustin Johnson hit three into the water on No. 18.
With no fans to create human or aural barriers, the first round felt like a charity scramble. When Finau walked off the 13th tee on Thursday morning, he looked to his left and saw Josh Duhamel, the actor from North Dakota, working as an on-course reporter.
“Hey, bro!’’ Finau said, and they chatted about Duhamel’s cabin and their summer plans. After finishing the hole, Johnson, who was playing in Finau’s group, fist-bumped Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph, who like Duhamel is a 3M brand ambassador for the tourney.
Finau would shoot a 65, and he made it look both easy and casual. Casual is the right vibe for someone who was more of a Golden Tee than silver spoon golfer growing up.
The best aspect of Thursday’s action was the reminder it provided about the pure meritocracy of sport, even in an affluent sport like golf.
Finau grew up poor in Salt Lake City. When he and his brother weren’t fighting, they went to the garage and pounded old golf balls into a mattress. He turned pro at 17 and played on “The Big Break’’ and on the Gateway, Hooters, National Pro and Canadian tours.
Learning in a garage produced his remarkably compact yet powerful swing. Finau hasn’t had to coil the club around his neck to produce long drives, but he took note when Bryson DeChambeau, who finished in a tie for second at last year’s 3M Open, added weight and began adding aggression to his single-plane swing, producing prodigious distances off the tee this season.
According to the Golf Channel, DeChambeau told Finau’s swing coach — and caddie this week — Boyd Summerhays that he had reached ball speeds of 205.7 mph.
Finau took that as a challenge, and reached 206. DeChambeau ranks first on the PGA Tour with an average drive of 323.8 yards. Finau ranks 20th at 307.1, but has power in reserve.
“I did a lot more last week,’’ he said. “I think Muirfield Village is a golf course you can open it up on a little bit more off the tee and I definitely did that on certain holes. Today, maybe only a couple of times.’’
Finau led the Memorial Tournament midway through the third round but shot a 78 on Sunday to finish eighth. For all of his length and potential, Finau has won just once on the PGA Tour — the 2016 Puerto Rico Open.
He’s ranked 17th in the world, but there is an art to winning and it usually involves putting, which has not been a strength for Finau. Thursday, he thrived on the TPC’s relatively soft greens while many of his competitors were watching putts lip out.
His swing isn’t all he’s changed. He fired longtime caddie Greg Bodine after the Memorial finish, which is why Summerhays is filling in this week.
“My caddie and I had a great run,’’ Finau said. “We were together for six years and it’s a tough thing, you know. On a personal level I love the guy and on a business level I felt it was time for a change in my situation and something just different.’’
Finau is the most intriguing name near the top of the leaderboard, and he might be the lone player with a Minnesota connection with a chance of winning this week.
He said his uncle runs a restaurant called Vannelli’s, and he had a steak there on Wednesday night. “I think I’ll be there more often this week,’’ he said.
Thanks, Tony. We Minnesotans are currently starved for live sports, and perpetually starved for any local angle we can dredge up.