Major Recollection of Hazeltine


2009 PGA ChampionshipThe only thing the course is missing is 80 acres of corn and a few cows, Dave Hill said during the 1970 U.S. Open before finishing second to Tony Jacklin, the first year that Hazeltine National hosted a mens major.
Strong sentiment indeed, but based on my recollection some 18 years after I first encountered it, I understand what he might have meant.
I qualified for my first, and only, major in 1991 ' the U.S. Open. And as the years add up, recollection can sometimes grow stronger, or at least the perception of those memories ' and I profess to still remember that week as though it were yesterday. However, the only memories I lack are the ones about the golf course itself.
Payne Stewart wins the 1991 U.S. Open
The late Payne Stewart won the 1991 U.S. Open at Hazeltine. (Getty Images)
I remember driving out to the course for a Monday practice round and having my courtesy car catch fire ' not the first one of the day, I later learned, as evidently there was a defect in the 1991 Oldsmobile Bravada brake system at the time.
I remember signing countless autographs as a no-name player and watching people read them as they said, Thanks, um . . . Jerry?
I remember signing up for a practice round with the biggest name on the sheet that didnt already have a full group, and I remember asking Nick Faldo my first question of the day on the 12th tee only to watch him wait until my caddie dropped my bag before he answered. While looking down for my name, he started with, Well, um . . . Jerry.
The strongest memory I have is seeing a nasty storm roll in extremely fast, hearing a horn blast ' which at the time meant you had the option to finish the hole ' thinning a sand wedge over the sixth green, hitting a mediocre chip, and three-putting for double bogey just as a bolt of lightning struck what seemed to be about 10 yards away.
I remember running for cover in the corporate tents next to the seventh fairway. We heard sirens all around. We (players and caddies) were told to make our way to a school bus parked on the other side of the fairway for safety. I remember waiting on this terribly hot and humid bus with the windows up for what seemed like an hour. I remember the sun coming back out and many of us leaving the safety of the bus against the orders of the volunteers who were there to help us. I remember hearing reports that a spectator was directly struck by lightning and feared to be dead. And I remember waiting back in the corporate tents for at least another two hours before the players started making their way back out to the course to resume play even though the weather had been clear the entire time.
I remember the sadness we all felt when it was confirmed that the spectator, William Fadell, had died.
I remember, as a 28-year-old professional rookie, learning a quick lesson in perspective while playing in my first big tournament and knowing just how insignificant it all was.
I remember my disappointment when realizing that the valet kid stole my two bags of stolen U.S. Open range bags out of my new, fireproofed Bravada on Thursday night.
I remember putting out on No. 18 early Friday in the first group of the day while Jack Nicklaus was watching and waiting from the nearby ninth green.
I remember standing in the locker room just after I finished and listening to the commentators speculate as to the whereabouts of Greg Norman (paired with Nicklaus) on the back nine as Norman stood next to me saying disparaging remarks toward the TV for them not already knowing that hed withdrawn after nine holes.
I remember every single shot I hit for 36 holes and every putt I missed.
I vividly remember so many things about that week, but I barely remember the course.
Hazeltine National is every bit a championship track worthy of any major, its just not one of those courses that leaves you with a jaw-dropping, awe-inspiring feeling in general.
The most vivid memory I have about Hazeltine is the members, and the fans.
Minnesota is sports rabid.
Where else would people turn out to watch losing major league baseball in a dome nicknamed after a childhood fairytale egg and a garbage bag brand? Where else would a city welcome a post-prime quarterback whos made a mockery out of the art of retiring?
And where else would thousands of people say thanks to a nobody who was flattered beyond belief to even be asked for an autograph?
When I watch the PGA Championship, I know Ill see some unbelievable golf. Perhaps the greatest single shot Tiger Woods has ever played happened on the 18th hole the last time the PGA visited Chaska, Minn. It was an impossible 3-iron from under the lip of a fairway bunker, into the wind, that left David Feherty speechless, as impossible as that sounds.
I know Ill see the human drama that golf delivers better than any other sport as men give their entire soul in pursuit of the coveted Wanamaker Trophy.
I know Ill see a beautiful course thats manicured to perfection at extreme levels designed to test these gifted athletes.
And I also know that the players will once again be the stars of the show, and the course will serve just a supporting role.
Early in my broadcasting career I was given perhaps the best advice Ive ever received from Ken Venturi shortly before he retired. Always respect the game, always tell the people what theyre not seeing, and keep in mind that the less the viewer notices you, the better.
Maybe, thats the way it should be for the course as well.
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