Hazeltine National has played host to just about every major traveling golf event. Those events have brought publicity but never allowed the club to link its name with a dominant champion.
Tony Jacklin won one of his two majors at the 1970 U.S. Open at Hazeltine. Payne Stewart won one of his three at the 1991 Open.
At the 2002 and 2009 PGA Championships, Rich Beem and Y.E. Yang held off Tiger Woods. Beem has maintained close ties with Hazeltine. Yang has not. It is not difficult to find Hazeltine members who will forever regret Woods’ uninspiring Sunday in 2009, which led to Yang’s only major title and left Woods unaffiliated with the Chaska course.
This weekend, Hazeltine National filled two voids on its résumé, as the Ryder Cup visited Minnesota for the first time, and a dominant champion soaked the grounds with champagne.
Captain Davis Love III had referred to the U.S. as “the best golf team, maybe, ever assembled.” Love was wrong about pedigree but far off on performance. The Americans won the Cup 17-11, giving them their largest margin of victory since 1981, when their slew of Hall of Famers won 18 ½ - 9 ½ in England.
For all of the Americans’ past struggles and internal dramas, this team became the kind of champion a golf club enjoys celebrating for a few decades.
Patrick Reed became the heart and mouth of what otherwise might have been a mild-mannered team. He performed the way so many Euros have over the years in the Ryder Cup, exceeding his résumé by playing with the kind of competitive fire once associated with Seve Ballesteros.
Phil Mickelson, who had criticized two of his former captains and spurred the adoption of a task force, delivered what might have been the most deserved half-point in the competition’s history Sunday, shooting a 63 to match Sergio Garcia.
Faced with pressure to end the Euros’ dominance, the Americans seized a 4-0 lead on Friday morning and never trailed.
Love was among those who opted to alter the layout for the Ryder Cup, so Hazeltine’s signature hole, which usually plays at the 16th, acted as the seventh for the weekend. This would ensure that every match would run past the most picturesque hole on the lake.
The rerouting also meant that the pond-protected par-5 16th, the delicate par-3 17th and the imposing par-4 18th would become the closing acts for the first Ryder Cup held on Minnesota soil.
Late Sunday afternoon, the wisdom of this decision was revealed. As the Americans surged toward victory, the massive crowd around the 16th green unleashed roars befitting a college football stadium, and the 17th green became an amphitheater ringed by tens of thousands.
Mickelson and Garcia reached the 17th green tied. Both parachuted shots next to the hole. Mickelson made his birdie, calmly pumped his fist, then watched as Garcia imitated his putt, and his celebration.
Next on the tee were Ryan Moore and Lee Westwood. Moore was the last player chosen by Love. Westwood was a Euro before anyone knew who Patrick Reed was.
Moore hit it close. Westwood left his approach short. As they walked, Tom Lehman, a U.S. vice captain and the greatest Minnesota golfer ever, stood behind the hole, and Beem, now a broadcaster, rushed to the green.
As the players read their putts, a group of fans began yelling “Down in front!” at an interloper. Then they realized it was Reed, and began yelling, “Never mind!”
As Beem flashed status reports toward Reed, Love arrived.
The sun was bathing the green in the kind of autumn warmth Minnesotans want to bottle for the winter. Leaves on the trees behind the 17th tee were glowing amber. And as what might have been the loudest crowd in Ryder Cup history hushed, Moore dropped in a birdie to reach all-square, and the temporary stadium erupted.
The task force had worked. Mickelson had thrived. Love had proved himself as a captain. Reed had become a star. And Hazeltine had watched a dominant champion spray champagne near the 18th green.
Jim Souhan’s podcast can be heard at MalePatternPodcasts.com. On Twitter: @SouhanStrib. email@example.com