In town for the Champions Tours 3M Championship, I found myself, like so many other people, just plain lucky. My timing was lucky, plain and simple. Sadly, very sadly, other people were not so lucky. At the time I write this column, the known death toll from the Minneapolis bridge collapse is at least seven.
In the days that followed, I had a chance to talk to some people about the disaster.
John Harris is a life long Minnesotan. He was born in Minneapolis, went to the University of Minnesota and resides in Edina, Minnesota. I asked John for his thoughts.
It was a real sober and somber moment for Minnesota, said John Harris. But tragedies like that happen. I think the people of Minnesota will rally together and bond together and theyll make it through this. Its a tough group here. Weve got a lot of quality people here and I hope that we learn from this and that it doesnt happen again.
I asked John if he was proud of the way the city of Minneapolis and the state of Minnesota were coming together and working together during this disaster.
John replied, The people are tough here and they have a lot of local pride and it doesnt surprise me at all that they come together like they do.
Asked how big of a distraction the bridge collapse was for him in terms of being prepared to compete in the 3M Championship, John said, Well, I dont think its going to be a distraction. I think that everyone will take a step back and reflect and realize that golf really isnt that important when it comes to life overall and these are the kinds of things that remind us that we play a game and we entertain and we still try and do the best we can. But in the big scheme its not very important.
Curtis Strange has been at the epicenter of professional golf since 1979 when he won his first PGA TOUR event, the Pensacola Open. Back to back U.S. Opens in 1988 and 1989 solidified him in the upper strata of professional golf. In Curtis mind, charity is the real star.
I think it goes without saying that one of the main reasons, if not the main reason that we have all of these events on the regular TOUR and on the Champions Tour is to help out the communities and support some of the charitable organizations that are involved with the events, Curtis said. And certainly, this was a terrible tragedy. We were all concerned for volunteers going over that bridge two and three and four times a day and players going over that bridge twice a day and thank goodness nobody directly involved with the tournament was involved. But, unfortunately there were people on that bridge. We as a group are responsible to help those people and victims. So were doing that. I hope we raise a ton of money and the people affected by the bridge collapse are certainly in our thoughts and prayers.
Tom Watson teed it up in the 3M Championship coming off his victory in the Senior British Open the week prior. Like Curtis Strange, Watson was optimistic about the funds the Champions Tour will raise for charities that can directly impact the Interstate 35W bridge collapse.
One of the things that we can do is we can ply our trade and raise funds for charity very easily, Tom Watson said. And thats been the history of the professional golf tours. You can probably take everybody who plays professional golf in one way or another ' they have their own charity benefit or some players have several charity benefits ' and they raise money through their playing of the game and the notoriety to raise funds for the things that are needed to help out.
One of the really neat things about the 3M Championship played at the TPC Twin Cities golf course is that the tournament attracts the Post-It Greats of Golf. It is a team exhibition event within the event itself that features some of the greatest players the game has ever known. Arnold Palmer was front and center. His army of fans cheering him on with every shot. I asked Mr. Palmer for his thoughts on the bridge collapse.
Thats a pretty tough thing right now, Mr. Palmer said. I think everybody feels very badly about what happened and certainly those things dont normally happen to us but every once in a while it unfortunately does happen. We just hope that the people who were involved who survived it are doing well and are able to meet the crisis.
Arnold Palmer is often credited with starting, or at the very least being the main catalyst, that successfully launched the Champions Tour. I asked him if was pleased with the way the Champions Tour responds to tragedies like the Minneapolis bridge collapse.
The whole thing, this Champions Tour, is about raising money for charities and also allowing these players to play some golf beyond their regular PGA TOUR careers, Mr. Palmer said. And this tour has worked quite well. I think the charities are doing very well and as you know I am particularly interested in Prostate Cancer and of course just about any type of cancer we can help with were doing everything we can to help. And when golf is the thing that makes it move along were very happy for that, too.
I asked Mr. Palmer if he had a few words of encouragement for the people involved in the disaster. He said, Well, I just want to wish all the people that were so unfortunate to experience what they have here this week my best and I hope they can survive it.
It was a dream like week for Mitch Adams. The 50-year old from Cary, North Carolina was a Monday qualifier and he made the best of his opportunity by finishing in a tie for third place. Mitch fought through tears as I asked him for his thoughts.
Absolutely. Absolutely, Mitch said. The whole week has been just an incredible week. With that tragedy and then the way the fans showed up for this eventits just been incredible.
3M is headquartered in neighboring St. Paul, Minnesota. They have been involved with the Minneapolis area Champions Tour event for many years. Recognized as one of the Champions Tours most successful tournaments from the standpoint of charitable endeavors, the tournament has donated over $12 million to charity since 1993. For 2007, 3M had earmarked $1.3 million to go to Allina's United Hospital and Mercy & Unity Hospitals. This was prior to the Minneapolis Interstate 35W bridge collapse. In consideration of the tragedy, 3M pledged even more money would be raised.
I suggested to Bob MacDonald, Sr. Vice President, Sales and Marketing for 3M that the week had two distinct sides: the nightmare side and the silver lining in the cloud side. He agreed.
It turned out to be a good week for us out here on the course but our hearts go out to those people that were touched by the disaster, said Mr. MacDonald. And this is a very philanthropic tournament. Its our fifteenth year and this year we had decided to give money to three hospitals and two of them had chosen to use the money for emergency services. So, that was fantastic. The disaster was a horrible tragedy but we hope the money we have been able to raise along with this great Champions Tour and these great players will in some small way ease some of the pain.
Fate dealt a mind numbing hand last Wednesday night in Minneapolis. As for me, it could have been a very close call. I finished my work at the tournament site at about 5:30 pm on Wednesday. Minneapolis is home to one of my favorite steak houses. I remember driving out of the parking lot and trying to decide if I should drive directly in to Minneapolis for dinner or if I should go back to my hotel first and shower up. A right turn would take me towards downtown and across the Interstate 35W bridge. A left would take me towards the suburbs and my hotel. I took the left and went back to my hotel. When I got in my room I turned on the television and I saw the horror of the bridge collapse. Needless to say I didnt go in to town for a steak that night.
My thoughts and prayers are with the families of lost and missing persons and also with the fine people of the city of Minneapolis.
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