BLAINE, Minn. – Hollis Cavner did it again.
On the 10th anniversary of the Greats of Golf at the 3M Championship, another wrinkle entered the mix at the hands of Cavner, the CEO of Pro Links Sports, which operates six Champions Tour events. After all, we’re talking about the graybeards. They’ve got a few.
Was it the addition for the first time of a team of LPGA stars of the not so distant past? Or Johnny Miller, a rookie participant, embracing his role as a ceremonial golfer? Or the golden oldies of Billy Casper, Arnold Palmer and Don January stealing all the glory by holing birdie putts by the bunches? On a day of high-fives and hijinks, hugs and air kisses, it was tough to say. So let’s start with the ladies.
This year, the “tournament within a tournament,” showcased three of the biggest winners in women’s golf. Team LPGA featured Annika Sorenstam, Nancy Lopez, and Pat Bradley. Their captain? None other than Arnold Palmer. Together, they helped fill parking lots and generate the largest single-day attendance in tournament history.
“I would’ve come out to watch them myself,” said Lee Trevino.
The Merry Mex was another reason that a line of fans stretched out the door and around the corner for the player autograph sessions. Then fans packed around the first tee to see the three teams of threesomes tee off after the leaders of the 3M Championship during Saturday’s second round.
The first tee announcer read such a laundry list of accomplishments that Trevino shouted, “While we’re young.” Among Lopez’s laurels: 35 years ago she won the LPGA’s rookie of the year, the player of the year and the Vare trophy in the same year.
“Did you get the 48 wins in there?” Lopez asked.
That was still to come. “Team LPGA” combined for 151 LPGA victories. Eventually, Sorenstam grew anxious to hit. “That’s enough!” she exclaimed.
Right before she teed off, she said, aloud, “It’s kind of like Colonial a bit,” a reference to her gender-breaking appearance on the PGA Tour in 2003.
Just as on that fateful day, the competitive juices flowed again. When Bradley canned a 40-foot downhill birdie putt, she delivered a celebratory right haymaker and hugged Palmer, who also collected kisses from his team members for the five birdie putts he converted.
“It seemed like they were kissing him after every shot,” one spectator said.
Then there was Miller, who never truly embraced the Champions Tour, but signed up for this week after having a blast playing on the winning side in the Greats of Golf in Houston in late April.
“It was fun to perform again,” Miller said. “I can still bust it and I’ve got Dave Stockton putting for me. How can you beat that?”
Afterwards, Miller was heard going from player to player asking, “What do I need to do to make sure I’m invited back?”
He’d better get in line. This has become such a popular gathering spot for the old timers that three other stars of yesteryear – Jim Colbert, Charlie Coody and Hubert Green – visited the corporate tents while the others played. As Colbert put it, “We go and tell everyone how good we used to be.”
The way Trevino was playing midway through the round, Champions Tour pro Fred Funk kidded, “I’m glad you’re not in the field this week. We’d all be in trouble.”
Trevino teamed with David Graham and Fuzzy Zoeller to shoot a 16-under-par 56 in the team scramble-format competition and win by two strokes. The winning team received the Miller Barber Cup, named for the tournament favorite who passed away in June. Barber was toasted several times during the Champion’s dinner Cavner hosted at his home the night before the tournament. Palmer sat at the head of the table. Lopez was seated next to him. January regaled with stories about Ben Hogan, Sam Snead and Byron Nelson. January reminisced about the split from the PGA and the formation of the Senior Tour. Oh, and he ribbed Palmer in the way only a guy who has been playing against him since college days, circa the 1950 Southern Intercollegiate, has license to do.
“January’s got a great memory,” Graham said. “He talks and everybody listens.”
Stockton was seated next to Bradley and said she was wide-eyed. “She’d never seen some of these guys in action telling stories from 40-50 years ago,” Stockton said. “It makes you feel like you’re part of something.”
January, who said before the round that he was only there as team captain for moral support, rolled in four birdie putts. When the first 10-footer dropped, he kicked his left leg in celebration. During his heyday, January answered to either “Bones” or “Slim.” He was thinner than a 1-iron, but not anymore. “You can still call me that,” he said, “just don’t call me late to dinner.”
January made putts, Graham contributed a little of everything while Zoeller busted drives, and Trevino kept hitting fairways. The pairing of Trevino and Zoeller guaranteed one thing: Graham wouldn’t be able to get a word in edgewise. “I’m speechless,” he joked afterwards. “I forgot how to talk.” It was Trevino, who convinced Graham to participate in this event four years ago. During the round Graham commented, “I traveled with Lee for 15 years and I’ve never laughed so hard with anyone else.”
Trevino was in rare form. One of the funniest moments occurred on the tee box at the par-5 sixth hole. Trevino was eager to hit, but there was one female fan still strolling across the fairway.
“If I hit her,” Trevino said, “I’ll perform mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.”
Everyone laughed. When he slapped a drive headed in her direction, he turned and asked the crowd, “Did I get her?”
When told no, Trevino joked, “Well, I may give her mouth-to-mouth anyway.”
Graham, who was up next, hooked his drive badly, to which Trevino blurted out, “Don’t worry, we’ll pick that one up next year.”
Graham smiled and explained to the audience he couldn’t get the image of Trevino giving mouth-to-mouth out of his head. He never had a chance. It went on like this all afternoon, with Trevino’s stream-of-consciousness a mixture of new material and canned favorites. When he hit a low-flying 3-wood that scooted on to the green at the par-5 12th hole, he said, “What, you didn’t think I was just a pretty face,” and added, “I hope those bugs wore helmets.”
Pro golf could use more of Trevino and Zoeller interacting with the crowd. In Trevino’s opinion, “They could use about six of me.” The Greats of Golf is like that comfortable pair of old shoes that you keep resoling. Even tournament leader Tom Pernice Jr. hung around the 18th green to see the greats. He witnessed Zoeller playfully toss his putter in the lake, January roll in one last putt for his good buddy, Miller Barber, and one final group hug.
“You’ve got to hand it to Hollis,” said Golf Channel’s Dave Marr Jr. at the award ceremony. “He throws quite a party.”
Cavner said he’ll begin working with the Tour on next year’s encore, which he said may include another female team.
“It’s a shame the way the LPGA and PGA Tour have not continued to keep their heroes a part of the game,” he said. “What they bring to the tournament is a level of excellence like nobody else.”
At the Greats of Golf, nobody would argue with that.