Reusse: 3M Open victory could be the first of many for Hodges

First-time winner Lee Hodges faced minimal pressure Sunday in taking the 3M Open on the receptive acreage of TPC Twin Cities.

Earlier rain had softened greens and wind was not a factor, making the Blaine golf course almost as defenseless as when it was set up to be a birdie-fest for the senior Champions Tour through 2018.

As if optimum scoring conditions were not enough for the 73 players making the 36-hole cut, the PGA Tour decided to turn the par-4 16th into a 305-yard treat — not only in Saturday's third round, but also Sunday's.

A short par-4 can be an intriguing challenge when designed to be so, but taking 100 yards off TPC's 16th basically provided a free birdie. Over the final two rounds, there were 98 birdies, an eagle and three bogeys on the shortened 16th.

Oh well. It mattered not in the big picture.

Hodges took the lead with a 63 playing the early shift in Thursday's first round and never relinquished it. In a tournament with some adventurous finishes in its short history, Hodges went wire-to-wire in a rout.

The 28-year-old Alabamian was 20 under and five strokes in front Saturday night, then took a good walk unspoiled by serious threat. He did make three bogeys Sunday, but those were more than offset by two eagles, and closed with a four-under 67.

When J.T. Poston, his partner in the final pairing, triple-bogeyed the 18th, Hodges' 24 under gave him a seven-shot victory. The previous low total in this tournament was 21 under by Matthew Wolff in 2019.

That was the initial 3M Open, and Wolff was among three novice pros predicted to be phenoms who were recruited into that field by tournament boss Hollis Cavner.

The others were Collin Morikawa and Viktor Hovland. Those two have fulfilled the positive predictions. Meantime, Wolff has discussed personal mental health issues, joined LIV Golf and been benched by the Saudi-run outfit for not giving a proper effort to his team, "Smash."

I'm not lyin' here. Those LIV zanies include team competition inside their 48-player, 54-hole tournaments.

As for legitimate, non-senior men's pro tournaments, those being 72 holes, Hodges became the 11th first-time winner in the 2022-23 events that have been recognized by the PGA Tour.

Most significantly among those was Wyndham Clark, with the U.S. Open victory at Los Angeles Country Club in June.

There now have been 56 first-time winners in the five golf seasons since the 3M Open started. There is celebration when a Tour player wins his first, and the accolades for what it will mean to a career.

On occasion, that player takes off, becomes a standout, and at other times, you look back a few years later and say:

"Wow. He won out here."

Scottie Scheffler won for a first time in 2022. He's built on that rather nicely. So did Will Zalatoris, the thin man currently out due to back surgery.

But does the name Dylan Frittelli ring a bell?

There was testimony late Sunday that Hodges will not be a one-and-done winner. For now, he has a winning check for $1.404 million, and also an invitation to the next April's Masters — a big deal to all, but particularly for a Son of the South.

Hodges comes from Huntsville, Ala., started his college career at UAB, then transferred to Alabama. The big-budget Crimson Tide flew in golf coach Jay Seawell and three other people on a school plane to be on hand Sunday.

"One of the first things we talked about as Lee was getting ready to win was what playing the Masters will mean to him," Seawell said. "When someone wins for the first time, you always hear, 'I'm going to be in the Masters,' but that's especially true for a player from our part of the country."

Seawall has been Tide coach for 21 years.

"We had Justin [Thomas], of course, as the National Player of the Year, and several other Tour winners," he said. "And this is our second here. Michael Thompson played for us, and he won the 3M in 2020.

"That was the COVID year, so we were restricted in travel and couldn't be here to watch Michael. For Lee, he shot that 63 in the first round, and we started saying, 'We might need a flight to Minnesota on Sunday morning.'

"He's just a very steady player. Great iron player. Goes about his business every round. And when he's making putts, like he did here, this is going to happen. He can win."

Seawell smiled hugely and said: "He's going to be one of those players who will be out here for 20 years, with a lot of good results.''


First-time winners on the PGA Tour since 3M Open started in 2019:

2023: Adam Svensson, Nico Echavarria, Kurt Kitayama, Taylor Moore, Matt Wallace, Nick Hardy, Davis Riley, Wyndham Clark, Vincent Norrman, Akshay Bhatia, Lee Hodges.

2022: Lucas Herbert, Talor Gooch, Luke List, Tom Hoge, Scottie Scheffler, Sepp Straka, Ryan Brehm, Chad Ramey, J.J. Spaun, Matt Fitzpatrick, Trey Mullinax, Tom Kim, Will Zalatoris.

2021: Jason Kokrak, Carlos Ortiz, Joel Dahmen, Sam Burns, K.H. Lee, Garrick Higgo, Cam Davis, Seamus Power, Erik van Rooyen, Abraham Ancer.

2020: Joaquin Niemann, Sebastián Muñoz, Lanto Griffin, Tyler Duncan, Viktor Hovland, Sungjae Im, Tyrrell Hatton, Richy Werenski.

2019: Kevin Tway, Cameron Champ, Adam Long, Martin Trainer, Keith Mitchell, Corey Conners, C.T. Pan, Max Homa, Sung Kang, Nate Lashley, Matthew Wolff, Dylan Frittelli, Collin Morikawa, J.T. Poston.