[Editor's note: Devil Ball correspondent Greg Vara is on the ground at the 3M Championship in Minneapolis, and files this dispatch. -JB]
I've attended two professional golf events over the past 12 months, the 2009 PGA Championship and the 2010 3M Championship, and let me tell you, they could not be more different. I'm sure the previous statement comes as no surprise, but to truly gauge how different these events are, you need to see them up close.
Events on both tours have their advantages, and given the choice, I am sure most golf fans would jump at the chance to see Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els up close as opposed to Fred Funk, Bernhard Langer and Hale Irwin. But the Champions Tour offers something that the PGA Tour just cannot: intimacy.
The PGA Tour does a great job of keeping their players protected, and I certainly can't blame them for that; they are valuable assets. The Champions Tour, however, realizes that their fan base is a critical component to the survival of this tour. As such, players will often walk through galleries on their way to the next tee, or stop and chat for a few seconds with some patrons that are crossing their path on the their way across the fairway.
It's all part of this feeling that yes, the players are important, but they are also real people. After missing a makeable putt on the eighth green on Friday, a frustrated Hale Irwin (right) grabbed his driver, walked right past me and stood there as his group putted out. He was clearly upset with himself and needed a few seconds to cool down, and he did so just steps beyond the gallery. Hale was ready to get to the next tee, and the quickest path was through the gallery. The strangest part of this was that no one batted an eyelash. There's Hale Irwin, standing by a tree, waiting to move to the next tee. No big deal.
To be honest, the atmosphere at the 3M Championship Friday was quite refreshing. The galleries are much different from those at the PGA Championship, and it's not just about the numbers. The galleries at the 3M seem to appreciate the golf more than the name on the back of the caddie's bib. Sure, some players such as Mark Calcavecchia or Bernhard Langer are going to draw bigger galleries, but for the most part, the spectators want to see quality golf, whether it's from a big name or a no-name.
Day 1 is in the books, and there were some great scores posted. With names such as Calcavecchia, Sutton and Sluman near the top of the leaderboard, this weekend is sure to be exciting. Saturday, I'll focus more on the event at hand, as I've gained my bearings after my first run through the TPC of Minneapolis.