For the past three years, the Sanford International has brought the world’s greatest golfers to Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
And, depending on who you ask, the greatest golfer of all time.
Jack Nicklaus, a winner of 117 professional tournaments and 18 major championships, makes his return to the Sanford International.
Nicklaus returned for a nine-hole exhibition round, teaming up with tournament host Andy North in a friendly Legends competition against Tony Jacklin and Hale Irwin. The winning duo had the opportunity to choose whether $20,000 gets donated to Sanford World Clinic, Sanford Children’s Hospital, or both.
Before “The Golden Bear,” North, Jacklin, and Irwin teed off in front of fans, the group spoke on how special the tournament is, being the first to bring back fans since March.
“We talk about it all the time, but professional athletes, they like to show off. There’s nothing better than hitting a ball behind one of these trees, and people saying ‘there’s no chance this guy’s got it from here.’ Then, you pull off some unbelievable shot. There’s nothing more fun than that,” said North.
North says the reason golfers, both up-and-coming and legends, have the chance to pull off miraculous shots in front of fans is because Sanford Health has laid out how to safely allow fans back.
“There’s some opportunities here for us to show the rest of the world that you can go do this. You can get out and have events. You can have spectators. There’s not a better place to do it than South Dakota, and with a health care system as a partner,” said North.
Because Sanford Health has such extensive measures to keep both the players and fans safe, the field of players has never been better.
“It’s a real testament to Sanford and this tournament. There’s a feeling of bigness at this event. Our players are not nervous to play in front of spectators, that’s why the field is so strong this year,” said president of PGA Tour Champions Miller Brady.
“They put a very detailed plan in place. We wouldn’t be able to do this without a partner like Sanford,” he added.
Niklaus, who sponsors the Memorial Tournament, said the experience wasn’t the same without fans.
“I haven’t seen anybody in a year,” he laughed.
“We were going to be the first tournament to have gallery (fans), then the tour decided that we won’t. We had all our tents up, all our stands, TV towers, concessions, everything was up. But when you look out, they’re all empty,” said Nicklaus.
But, if you ask him, it wasn’t all bad.
“I kind of enjoyed it, I could drive wherever I wanted to go, do whatever I wanted, I didn’t get bothered by anybody. But really, I think it’s great to have the fans back, and it’s great to have them here,” he said.
Although there are many fans walking the grounds of the Minnehaha Country Club, Nicklaus wasn’t concerned of COVID-19 spread.
“I haven’t been worried about it too much from my standpoint. I wear a mask when I go out in public as a courtesy. But, when we’re out in the open, I haven’t worried too much about it.”
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