Reusse: Changes made TPC Twin Cities tough enough for the PGA Tour

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  • Hale Irwin
    Hale Irwin
    American golfer

Minnesota's golf tournament for senior pros moved to the TPC Twin Cities in 2000 and became the 3M Championship. The new course in Blaine had wide fairways that made getting into a serious trouble a remote possibility for the Hale Irwin crowd, followed by the Bernhard Langer crowd.

Starting with R.W. Eaks' victory at 23 under in 2008, the winner of the 3M was 20 under or lower five times in three rounds. David Frost set the record at 25 under in 2010, and Ken Perry won three times at -23, -18 and -21.

The last of those came in 2018, a few weeks after it was announced the Twin Cities would regain a PGA Tour event in 2019 — 50 years after the last St. Paul Open/Minnesota Classic was won by Frank Beard at Braemar in Edina.

It would become the 3M Open and continue to be played at TPC Twin Cities. To local golf observers, it seemed outrageous this course in the open spaces of Blaine would provide a valid shot-making challenge for golfers who were younger, stronger and much-better.

Hollis Cavner, in charge of the senior event for 26 years, drove the mission along with 3M to get Minnesota on the PGA Tour. And he was not to be deterred by predictions of cynics that the 36-hole cut line would be 6 under and the winning score for four rounds could equal Ernie Els' 31 under at Kapalua in 2003.

In order to help make this course worthy, Steve Wenzlaff came in from the PGA Tour office in Florida. Tom Lehman, Minnesota golfing legend, was hired as a consultant.

Lehman and Wenzlaff both had been advisers here in the late '90s, when the former sod farm was being turned into a golf course by Arnold Palmer's design company.

Wenzlaff, talking from home on Saturday, said: "When you have a venue purposely built for a Champions event, and two decades later you're going to have the most talented players in the world competing on it … there's a need to increase the challenge.

"On one of our courses like this, you have to improve the place while keeping it nice and playable for the membership. It's their course for all but one week a year.''

There was another adjustment in the switch from the seniors to the big tour, Wenzlaff said:

"The way the game has changed in length in the 20-some years since we opened the course. It was great having Tom there as a consultant, as we looked for opportunities that would give today's Tour players some tougher decisions to make.''

One easy fix to impact the under-par numbers was to transform the easy par-5 third into a 495-yard par-4 for the pros. That lowered par for the 3M Championship to 71.

"We added distance where it made sense,'' Wenzlaff said. "We also tightened it to some degree … putting bunkers in the tour landing zone, growing in rough.''

There aren't enough trees on TPC Twin Cities to create a natural narrowness. It has a couple of creeks and several significant ponds, including the almost-a-lake in front of the 18th green.

"We had a layout where the senior winners were around 20 under par for three rounds,'' Wenzlaff said. "The first two years on the Tour, the winners have been almost exactly that for four rounds, so you would have to say the changes have worked, to a degree.''

Dottie Pepper's pre-tournament assessment for CBS included this informative quote:

"The TPC Twin Cities had the second-most approach shots hit by the field from 175 to 200 yards of any course on Tour in 2019 and 2020. It's not an easy golf course. They have to lay up in some spots to avoid where the bunkers pinch in.

"If that's the situation again this year, with longer shots coming in as hard and fast, I don't think you're going to see these super-low scores …''

Pepper said this early in the week based on a forecast it would stay hot and dry. It was seen on Friday afternoon, when the wind kicked up and Rickie Fowler, Dustin Johnson, etc. started making bogeys, not birdies.

Then came enough rain overnight to soften the greens. That created dart-throwing immediately after the threesomes started teeing off at 10 a.m.

Keith Mitchell opened with seven birdies after teeing off on 10. Rickie Fowler, after Friday's flop with a 73, opened with six birdies in 10 holes. It looked like a senior-style slaughter.

Mitchell was 2 over on the next 11 holes. Fowler stalled, then hit two in the water on No. 18 for a triple bogey.

It was all Cavner and Co. could ask. Players bouncing up and down the leaderboard, but with enough punishment now available for off-line shots to cause bogeys and higher.

Bottom line: TPC Twin Cities might not be the Shinnecock Hills of the Midwest, but it's not the embarrassment of ease many of us imagined three years ago when a PGA Tour weekly event landed here after a half-century absence.

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