On a day when it was announced that legendary Bernhard Langer is going to be playing golf in Sioux Falls in September, it was clear that Steve Stricker’s feelings toward his 2018 PGA TOUR Champions Sanford International victory have not changed.
When Stricker stood at the podium on Monday morning for Media Day for the 2019 Sanford International Presented by Cambria, he was just a short walk from the 18th fairway at Minnehaha Country Club.
It was on a sunny Sunday last fall standing in that fairway that he held the heavy Cambria-built trophy and stammered his way through an emotional victory speech that touched on his appreciation of fellow Wisconsinite Andy North, the two-time U.S. Open winner, official Sanford International host and long-time Stricker friend.
And nearly a year later, Stricker reflected on that memorable week last September. It was the PGA Tour Champions’ first tournament visit to South Dakota.
“Being the host of an event myself in Madison (Wisconsin), I know what it takes to put on an event and what it takes for a community to get involved,” said Stricker, the captain for the 2020 U.S. Ryder Cup team. “You guys have the makings of a very special event here with the people that came out to support the tournament. Then you have the presenting sponsor in Cambria. And Sanford. It’s a wonderful group to be a part of to form a relationship with the Tour.”
Sanford International II
Monday’s gathering marked the first public event aimed toward this year’s Sanford International, Sept. 16-22, at Minnehaha Country Club. It served as a review for what touring pros and patrons regarded as a successful inaugural PGA Tour Champions event. It also serves as a preview of a 2019 tournament that will now feature Langer, a two-time Masters winner who has continued on as one of the most dominant PGA Tour Champions players in history.
“We’re looking forward to a fantastic week,” said North, a member of Sanford Health’s International Board. “Last year was amazing — we had no idea what to expect. It’s like having your first child. You think you know what you’re doing and once he or she shows up, you’re totally out the window — you have no idea what is going on. But all went well.”
Stricker, who won 12 times on the regular tour and won three of the seven PGA Tour Champions tournaments he entered last year, will not be playing in the 2019 Sanford International because of an elk hunting trip that had been years in the making. He will be back in 2020.
“It’s a tough event for me to miss,” Stricker said. “But I’m truly excited to be the first-year champion and I look forward to coming back next year. I wish you all the best this upcoming year. Hopefully the rain stays away and you can continue to build on that tremendous first year.”
The addition of Langer, a 113-time professional winner who won the Senior Open at Royal Lytham & St. Annes Golf Course on July 28 at age 61, adds to a strong list of entries for the 2019 tournament. Langer has won five Charles Schwab Cups, awarded annually to the PGA Tour Champions’ top golfer, with the most recent last year.
“No one has dominated this tour like he has the last five or six years,” North said. “He’s 60-plus years old and he’s still winning tournaments. He just won a major. He’s an amazing guy. Bernhard is going to be a great addition. He’s really bought into what we believe in. He parallels so many of the feelings we have about kids and doing things the right way. It’s going to be great having him here.”
Stricker won the 2018 event by four strokes, this despite playing only seven practice holes at the historic Sioux Falls course. Heavy rain early in the week made prep work interesting for both the golfers and those getting the course ready to play but ultimately the three-day, 54-hole tournament went on as scheduled.
Teamwork the key
“At the end of the day, if you prepare, things will work out,” said tournament director Greg Conrad, whose leadership got the tournament through its battle with the weather. “The community was prepared, Sanford stepped forward, Cambria stepped forward, the city of Sioux Falls stepped forward. And there were things that people helped out with — things that a lot of folks still don’t know about — that allowed the tournament to take place. I’m humbled by that.”
Apprehension about hosting an event followed worldwide was replaced by confidence built on teamwork. The fact that many of these team members were working together for the first time made it more inspiring.
“The event was amazing,” said Summer Kath, Cambria’s executive vice president of business development. “It rained a little bit — well, a lot — but we made the best of it and when the sun came out and the whole tournament started, it was absolutely beautiful. We were so impressed. We could not believe, given that it was a first-time tournament, how well and how professional everyone was and how much coverage Sioux Falls got in this tournament.”
The event again includes an appearance by golf legend Jack Nicklaus as part of the EMC Legends Series. The nine-hole match-play exhibition, to be held Sept. 21, will include North as well as Dave Stockton, a two-time PGA Championship winner, and Hale Irwin, a three-time U.S. Open winner.
“The EMC Legends Classic last year was absolutely amazing,” North said. “Jack is coming back this year and we’re looking forward to trying to not get our rear-ends beat like we did last year. Dave Stockton, who was part of the team that beat us is bringing in Hale Irwin to be his partner. He’s an unbelievable player.”
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