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Friday, Aug. 22, 2014

Hazeltine is much longer this time around

Posted Wednesday, August 12, 2009, at 1:18 PM

Hazeltine National Golf Club is a storied venue for major championships. Prior to this week's PGA Championship, the Chaska, Minn., club has hosted six major championships. It was seven years ago when Hazeltine last hosted a major and that was the 2002 PGA Championship won by Rich Beem. It will also serve as host to the 2016 Ryder Cup.

I had the pleasure of sitting with "The Beemer" at Tuesday night's Past Champions dinner. In '02, Beem had a 5-shot lead with four holes to play and held off a hard charging Tiger Woods, who finished with four straight birdies.

"It was crazy," said Beem. "I was up by four with five to go and Tiger went crazy down the stretch with those four birdies. I was able to bogey No. 18 and win by a shot."

Beem is typical in some ways of recent major championship winners like Ben Curtis, Shaun Micheel, Todd Hamilton and Mark Brooks who leave their legacy as winners of golf's most prestigious prizes versus the Bob Mays and Chris DiMarco who are near misses.

Beem is an interesting character. He grew up near Las Cruces, New Mexico and attended New Mexico State University on a golf scholarship. According to Beem, he really wasn't recruited by anybody else and the local university was his best choice.

His father was "a successful pharmacist" who decided to make a career change and become a PGA professional.

"That probably was not a smart move," laughed Beem. "But, he loved golf and he is now a Life Member of the PGA. My dad influenced my career more than anyone."

When asked to compare the Hazeltine of 2009 to that of his winning venue here in 2002 the answer was pretty simple. "It's about 400 yards longer!" said Beem. "And I am seven years older."

Much has already been written about Hazeltine's length for this championship. There are four par 5 holes which average 613 yards in length. This tournament features the longest par 5 in the history of the PGA Championship- Hole 15, 642 yards long!

If that is not enough, throw in Hole 13, a 248 yard par 3 -- the longest of its kind in PGA Championship history. Sandwiched in between, is Hole 14 a 352 yard, par 4 that can be adjusted to see its green driven with a forward tee placement. Kerry Haigh, Director of Championships for the PGA of America, has many tricks available this week!

The weather forecast is for temperatures in the low 90s by week's end with winds in excess of 20 mph. Conditions should get hard and fast, which will minimize the 7,674 yards ahead of the best field in golf.

To date, 98 of the top 100 players in the world are competing at Hazeltine. Only Trevor Immelman and Robert Karlsson will miss due to injury. England's Paul Casey is battling a bad shoulder and will decide Wednesday if he can play.

Practice round crowds have been fantastic with over 25,000 in attendance each of the first two days. Minneapolis has traditionally been one of golf's strongest markets and expectations are high for record weekend crowds. Studies have shown that 27% of the households in the Twin Cities metro area have a golf presence. That is a phenomenal number.

The official hotel of the PGA of America is the Sofitel, located about 30 minutes from the golf course. Many of the players are staying here. Private housing is another option during the week of a major. According to Beem, "I usually stay at a hotel for the affordability, but this week was an exception."

One of Beem's perks for winning the 2002 PGA was receiving a lifetime membership presented to him by the members of Hazeltine in 2003. His relationship with the club has grown and it now includes an annual interclub match between the El Paso Country Club, Beem's home club in Texas, and Hazeltine, his new club.

"That has been a blast," said Beem. "I hand picked my team from El Paso, so I didn't bring any guys from El Paso that would embarrass me!"

"The Beemer" shot 10-under par in 2002 when he won here. When asked for a prediction on this year's winning score, he replied, "I think it will be in the same ballpark. Things will dry out here and guys will still post some scores even with the length of the course. The rough is gnarly in spots, but manageable in others."

Beem is paired in Rounds 1-2 with Padraig Harrington, the defending champion and Tiger Woods. At the Champions Dinner, he offered his two challengers a warning. "I want you guys to know that I have a lot of friends here now. The crowd will be really pulling for me. I hope it doesn't distract you!"

Privately, Beem confided to me, "I would much rather be playing with Tiger than in front of him."

So, let the games begin!



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