A good week with Tiger

August 17, 2009

by Matt Kane

I realized something last week as I chased Tiger’s tail around Hazeltine National Golf Club for the 91st PGA Championship — Minnesotans love golf.

Every time I got caught up in a swarm of people buzzing in the opposite direction I was going, I wondered how in the world soccer is the most popular sport in that world. I kept thinking it had to be golf, instead.

I’m not a big soccer guy, myself, but soccer and golf do have something in common — their biggest players are known by one name.

In soccer, there is Pelé, Beckham, Rivaldo and Ronaldo, and, in golf, there is Tiger, Phil, Sergio, and Vijay, just to name a few.

During my week at Hazeltine, I managed to catch a glimpse of the four golfers named in the previous paragraph, and, after watching each, I was in awe.

Pioneer Creek club pro Mark Ellingson worked as a volunteer on the practice range two days during the tournament, and he admitted that he tried to find out why some of the golfers playing in the tournament are so much better than others. On the practice range and when one watches a round played by either one of the best or one of the worst, there doesn’t seem to be much difference. And then, they turn their score cards in and the numbers are quite different.

I certainly don’t know how to explain it, and Ellingson didn’t have a definite answer. He believes it has something to do with each player’s mental makeup. I might have to agree.

Follow Tiger Woods around for a week on the golf course, and it’s rare to get a laugh or even a smile out of him. All day long, whether he is on the practice green or the 18th green, Woods has a look in his eye that says, ‘Don’t mess with me.’

I’m waiting for the day when Woods turns around after a photographer’s shutter goes off in his backswing, and, with a green-eyed glare, warns the shutterbug, “Mr. Photographer, don’t make me angry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.”
Not everybody on the Tour ignores the fans.

Phil Mickelson constantly waves to the crowd, says, ‘Thank you,’ and promises he will sign autographs later. And Padraig Harrington joked around during his early-week press conference, managing a dozen-or-so smiles between his Irish-accented answers to the reporters’ questions.

The 2002 PGA Championship winner Rich Beem, who won the tournament at Hazeltine that year, was treated like a rock star during the week, and Alexandria’s Tom Lehman was applauded everywhere he went, because, well, he is one of us. I don’t think the people of any other state support their home-grown athletes better than Minnesotans, and it showed with Lehman.

It didn’t seem to matter what kind of personality any particular golfer carried around with him on the course, the Minnesota faithful were still there.

A walk along any of the 18 holes during the four tournament days consisted of dodging thousands of other onlookers and walkers. And even the three practice days — Monday through Wednesday — saw hoards of golf fans spending their days following in Tiger’s paw prints.

There is no question the PGA Tour needs to have more events in Minnesota, and I think the attendance proves this.

The one question I did have for some in the crowd is why they thought it was necessary to wear their golf shoes, when all they were doing was watching.