Neal: 3M Open gives us a week to celebrate a sport we love

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La Velle's 3-2 Pitch:Three observations and two predictions every Sunday.

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The goal was to get out of Big 12 country and back into the more familiar Big Ten, as well as return to an area with more than two pro sports teams.

Still, my decision to move from Kansas City to the Twin Cities in 1997 was met with concern.

"You're going all the way up THERE?" one of my friends asked me.

It was as if Minnesota was near the North Pole.

My move to Flyover Country provided me with all the major sports I wanted, and one more I've embraced since arriving. The 3M Open takes place this week at the TPC Twin Cities in Blaine. It is a celebration of golf in a state that's more passionate about it than I anticipated.

Some background: I have a standard answer when someone asks me if I play golf. "I swing a golf club. I swing at a golf ball. I'm not sure what I do is golf." I'm the guy you want to play with because you won't be the worst golfer on the course. Whenever Uncle Pat Reusse says or writes that he's a confirmed hacker, he owes me royalties.

Some believe that the day man learned to swear was the day he attempted to hit a rock into a hole with a stick. I am a walking, talking re-enactment.

The sport appeals to me in two ways. One, because my cigar-smoking buddies play. Two, the fantastic charity golf events in this state have afforded me the opportunity to launch divots on some of the best courses in these parts.

And there are plenty of courses I've torn up. There are nine courses of varying difficulties within 15 minutes of my home. I can throw my clubs on my back and walk to Inver Wood, provided I can get a tee time at one of the busiest courses in the area.

And still fascinating to me is motoring through Minnesota farmland and seeing one of two things pop up: a town ball stadium or a golf course.

I attended the 2009 PGA Championship at Hazeltine, when Y.E. Yang held off Tiger Woods. It's better known as the tournament where Tiger stopped being Tiger. I returned to Hazeltine in 2016 for the Ryder Cup. I stood in line at the merchandise tent behind a woman who looked around as the gear flew off the racks and yelled, "I've never seen so many men shopping in all my life!"

This year, I'll be in Blaine at least three times during 3M week — as a scribe and a fan — watching whoever doesn't have an Open hangover or is not in the Olympics. Even with those events taking place, the field here is pretty cool: Finau, Sergio Garcia, Rickie Fowler, Dustin Johnson, Cameron Champ, Brian Harman, Matt Kuchar, Troy Merritt, Bubba Watson, former champion Matthew Wolff and former Gopher Erik van Rooyen. As well as Louis Oosthuizen, who led the British Open going into the weekend.

Some will clamor for more big names, but that's a good group of recognizable players headed here.

It's not time to rename Minnesota as the State of Golf, but this is one golf-crazy state. And the 3M Open is a celebration for local golfers, from the Lehmans and the Burnhams who have been fortunate to compete on the pro tour to the confirmed hackers who need two pencils to fill out their scorecards so they don't run out of lead.

Bold bosses

Two instances of "short-term pain, long-term gain" can be found with the Timberwolves and the Wild.

Gersson Rosas joined the Timberwolves in May 2019 as president of basketball operations with a roster that included one alpha in Jimmy Butler, Andrew Wiggins' fat contract and little else to like. In two years of heavy transition, he rid the roster of trouble and returned promise to it.

Bill Guerin was hired by the Wild as general manager three months after Rosas came to town. He inherited a roster clogged by massive contracts and declining skills. Guerin, as of last week's moves with of Ryan Suter and Zach Parise, has now completed his own overhaul.

Jobs well done, both.

More changes, please

Baseball's many problems … may actually be decreasing?Games remain too long, with not enough action. The battle between pitchers and their doctoring of baseballs and league police is a silly fight. And even during the Midsummer Classic on Tuesday, the sport showed how it can overthink some things by issuing uniforms for both teams that looked like Garanimals rejects.

But Commissioner Ron Manfred offered a ray of hope: that seven-inning doubleheaders deployed since 2020 won't likely return in 2022. Also, no more runners at second base in extra innings.

Both measures were put in place for health reasons during the height of the pandemic and are no longer needed. Hooray. Now let's get rid of shifting and pitchers taking 25 seconds between pitches.

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AND TWO PREDICTIONS ...

Prediction: Buxton stays

I've been told that Byron Buxton likes playing for the Twins, likes his teammates and wants to stay. If the Twins are attempting to sign him to a long-term deal, then the sides will figure out Buxton's value and get a deal done.

Not-so-golden guys

USA men's basketball is having a rough run-up to the Olympics: exhibition losses, Bradley Beal landing in COVID protocols and Kevin Love withdrawing. Meanwhile, the game grows quickly around the globe. The gap is closing. Sorry: Team USA will not win gold in Tokyo.

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