They are erecting tented villages and growing rough from Chaska to Blaine these days, one month out from a summer of pro golf in Minnesota.
Eleven years after Edina’s Interlachen Country Club hosted the U.S. Women’s Open, the LPGA returns next month to Hazeltine National Golf Club and a state that held the 2002 Solheim Cup and an annual tour event for most of the 1990s.
Two weeks after that, the PGA Tour — with Sunday’s PGA Championship winner Brooks Koepka committed to play — brings back an annual tour stop to Minnesota for the first time since 1969.
The KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, one of five LPGA major championships, represents a tour changed from its last time here. Now a 33-event season, it’s played in 11 countries from Asia to Europe but in need on these shores of more American stars.
The 3M Open comes to the same TPC Twin Cities in Blaine where a PGA Tour Champions event was held for two decades. It arrives July 4 weekend to a course narrowed, lengthened and toughened to challenge a 156-player field that so far has commitments from seven major championship winners. Among them are world No. 1-ranked Koepka, five-time major winner Phil Mickelson, 2018 Masters champ Patrick Reed and 2015 PGA champ Jason Day. World eighth-ranked Bryson DeChambeau has committed to play, too.
Minnesota fans have proved they will attend golf’s major championships and the Ryder and Solheim Cups by the tens of thousands when those events have visited the state.
Will they turn out in big numbers for a women’s major boosted, starting in 2015, by the PGA of America’s backing and an improved list of courses that now includes Hazeltine National? Or for a men’s tour event that, unlike the free-to-the-public Champions tour in recent years, charges admission and presents the best field 3M Open boss Hollis Cavner and his staff can recruit?
Mickelson returned to Minnesota with two-time major winner Stacy Lewis earlier this month to promote a women’s major sponsored by each player’s big corporate backer. It will be played at a Hazeltine course he calls home to “some of the greatest memories of my career,” specifically a 2016 Ryder Cup that drew 70,000 people or more for three picture-perfect autumn days.
He has committed to come back in July to play in the inaugural 3M Open because of all those memories made in Minnesota at Hazeltine.
“The biggest thing is the community and the way they support the game,” Mickelson said. “They have the largest crowds. They have the most enthusiastic crowds here. Maybe because we haven’t had a tournament every year, I don’t know. But this is a great sports town and they support golf the same way. The LPGA is in for a great treat to be hosting a major championship here in this city.”
Lewis played her first pro event at Interlachen in 2008 and led entering the final round of a U.S. Women’s Open. She fondly recalls the large galleries that followed her and rising star Paula Creamer.
“We’ve always done well here getting fans and people out,” said Lewis, now age 34 and on tour this season with her first child born last October. “That’s what makes a major championship major, is the fans coming out.”
The KPMG Women’s PGA Championship now is played at men’s major-championship courses that include Olympia Fields near Chicago, Baltusrol near New York City and Congressional near Washington, D.C. It will be televised the first two days by the Golf Channel and by NBC on the weekend.
Lewis acknowledges the need for more American stars — “That comes first and foremost” — on a tour where players are getting stronger, longer and better by the year. Lexi Thompson and Nelly Korda are the only Americans among the world’s top 10 women’s players. Two others, Jessica Korda and Danielle Kang, are in the top 20.
She calls American network coverage an important step forward.
“Which is what we’re doing with this championship,” she said. “It’s about being more accessible and getting people out. We’re the type of sport where once we get people out, we get them back. It’s a little bit different experience, more interactive. We’re just more accessible than most other athletes.”
Top draws for the 3M Open include fan favorite Mickelson and Koepka, who is the only man to be a two-time defending champion of separate majors after he won the past two U.S. Opens and past two PGA Championships.
Tournament week will also include a ticketed Zac Brown Band concert on a holiday weekend that Cavner says will be “the biggest outdoor party in Minnesota that you can have.”
Both Mickelson and Reed say they will be there because of their Minnesota memories made at Hazeltine.
“I want to see this tournament be successful,” Mickelson said. “The way the community has supported major championships over the years, this place deserves to have an event here every year. I want to be part of it and I think if you watch the way KPMG-PGA event is supported, it will be no different from the men’s event. Golf has been supported so well here over the years.”