Based on just about any metrics one might use to measure greatness in golf, the Sanford International has never been more difficult to win.
The 2022 field for this PGA Tour Champions event at Minnehaha Country Club has never been stronger than it is this year with 29 of the top 30 golfers on the 2022 PGA Tour Champions money list entered. That list includes every player in the top 10 and five who have won more than once this season.
In career terms, six World Golf Hall of Famers are entered and 14 competitors in all have won majors on the PGA Tour. Twenty-four entered have won majors on the Champions Tour.
That’s by the numbers. By the names is more fun.
To start with, former winners Steve Stricker (2018), Rocco Mediate (2019), Miguel Angel Jimenez (2020) and Darren Clarke (2021) will all be competing. Leading money winner Steve Alker will be playing, as will Padraig Harrington, who won last week’s Ascension Charity Classic in St. Louis, and is the second-leading money-winner.
Stricker, at age 55, continues to compete on the PGA Tour – he’s won $640,000 this season – and is one of the favorites in every PGA Tour Champions event he enters. On Aug. 28, he won the Ally Challenge in Michigan, winning for the 12th time on this tour. He is currently fifth on the money list for 2022 despite playing in just 10 tournaments.
The field also includes several who qualify as the most popular players in the world, including Bernhard Langer, who has worked closely with Sanford Health and the Sanford Sports Science Institute. Others who will be playing and are among the game’s most recognizable names include Fred Couples, John Daly, Davis Love III, Ernie Els, Colin Montgomerie, Mark O’Meara, Vijay Singh, David Duval, José Mariá Olazábal and Corey Pavin.
“The biggest thing when you get great fields is that first of all, players like to go to tournaments in communities where they have fun, and second of all, it’s about golf courses they like to play and having good experiences there,” said Andy North, a two-time U.S. Open winner who has served as the Sanford International’s host for all of its five years.
It goes back to that first year, North said, with the Minnehaha staff enduring heavy rain for several days leading up to the opening round. A helicopter was used to dry the greens that year. Players took pictures and posted them on social media.
“I think the players understood then that this is a group of people who really want to put on an event – they really care,” North said. “And people show up. These guys are great players, some of them have been professionals now for 35 years. They want to show off and it’s no fun if no one is here.”
The 2020 tournament was the first Tour event after COVID-19 hit the Midwest to safely include spectators. It was another indication of Sanford’s commitment to the tournament and the community.
“This golf course is at the top of everyone’s list. That’s why the field is so strong,” said Matt Gogel, a former PGA Tour regular who went on to become a golf commentator and is now playing the Champions Tour. “Players can tell if the tournament sponsor is engaged in the event or if they’re just writing a check. Here they’re engaged all week.”
“It’s an unbelievable place for high-level professionals to come out here and play amazing golf, but also that environment of getting close to the players themselves and getting close to the tournament itself,” said Steve Young, president of Sanford Sports. “It’s great seeing the community come out for this. And if it’s a close race on Sunday like it has been the last few years, it makes for a really amazing event.”
The long list of prominent returnees serves as an endorsement for the volunteers from the community, the Minnehaha Country Club and the spectators themselves. From the players’ perspective, it’s a nice golf course played in a city where everyone treats you right.
“These guys don’t usually play in front of this many people,” said Davis Trosin, who will be taking over as Sanford International tournament director at the completion of the 2022 event. “They like being cheered for a good shot. They feel that energy. Last year I remember Darren Clarke making that putt on 18 to force a playoff. It was the loudest cheer I’ve heard at a sporting event in a long time.”
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