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The 3M Championship: An Exclusive Interview with Champions Tour Golfer John Harris
Arnold Palmer stalks the fairways, imparting his intimate knowledge of the golf course he designed, as he captains a group of LPGA legends led by 10-time major champion Annika Sorenstam, who are pitted against the likes of Johnny Miller, Lee Trevino and Fuzzy Zoeller in a best-ball competition for the ages. A few holes away, Kenny Perry continues a blistering start to his Champions Tour career while golf icons Tom Kite and Hale Irwin are vying for another taste of victory, as Tom Lehman headlines a group of Minnesotans trying to win one in front of the hometown crowd. If that sounds like something that might interest you – and you like the price point of… wait for it … absolutely free — keep reading.
This weekend, Minnesota golf fans will have the chance to witness that scene at the 3M Championship, a Champions Tour event at TPC Twin Cities in Blaine. 3M hosts the event and provides the prize purse, while fans who attend will enjoy free admission and parking to watch some of golf’s greats compete. In addition to the standard three-round tournament for Champions Tour players, the weekend will also include the Greats of Golf Challenge, a three-team best-ball tournament-within-a-tournament during Saturday’s play. Did I mention Arnold Palmer is going to be there?
At 2nd Swing, we’re excited, and so are the Champions Tour players filtering into our stores for some last-minute club additions and tweaks. When 1996 PGA Champion Mark Brooks came in for several hours this week looking for some high-spinning, high-launching fairway woods, he told our fitters that it was his favorite week of the year. Why? “Because I get to come to 2nd Swing.”
On Wednesday, 1993 U.S. Amateur Champion John Harris (who also won a national championship playing hockey for the University of Minnesota) came in to get a few loft and lie adjustments made on his new gamer 3-wood, a RocketBallz Stage 2 Tour, prior to the tournament. He graciously sat down for an interview and discussed his preparation, the course, and the events going on this weekend at the 3M Championship.
2S: Pretty big week so far?
JH: There’s a lot of enthusiasm, and I think it’s going to be a good week, forecast is supposed to be for nice weather. And for the pro-am, there’s been a lot of excitement as the amateurs find out who they’re going to play with. [2-time defending MN Senior Open Golf champion] Don Berry just qualified [Tuesday at Victory Links in Blaine], making five Minnesota golfers in the tournament: Berry, myself, [University of Minnesota graduate and 1996 Open Championship winner] Tom Lehman, [former U.S. Public Links Champion] Jim Sorenson, and [former Minneapolis Golf Club pro] Dave Podas.
2S: How’s your game looking?
JH: It’s alright, it could always be better. I’m really pretty optimistic. It’s a challenge not to get too excited too early, where you try to do too much right away. I’ve had weeks I’ve played well, and others where I just get too worked up early in the week and fizzle before the end. But this course sets up well for my game, and in my career here I’ve had three or four good tournaments, three or four that were average, and three or four not so good.
2S: How do you prepare?
JH: For me, this is a major. For two weeks before the tournament, the most specific thing I do is work on wedge and distance-control shots. Even though it’s a big course, for me it’s kind of a finesse course: all of the pin placements on the par-5s will probably be very close to the water, so if you’re playing into the green on your third shot, that wedge is either going to have to be very precise or you’re going to have to play it away from the hole. I also try to prepare for different winds, which can be a huge factor in how you play this course. Coming into the last week beforehand, I’ll hit shots on the range as if I were playing the holes – if the first hole is downwind, that means the second and third are into the wind, so I’ll practice my tee shot on two, then my wedge over the water on two, and so forth – in a specific wind condition, and change it up each day. At the Open Championship at Muirfield a couple weeks ago, most guys were hitting driver off the tee on six holes Thursday, and then on Friday they were also hitting six drivers, but they were on six different holes than Thursday. That can happen at TPC, too. On number 7, for instance, when you’re with the wind it’s a drivable hole, but into the wind, I’ve got to lay up. It turns a driver-wedge into a driver-hybrid situation, and there’s often two different ways of playing a hole. So I try to envision what it’s going to be for that day, and what the shots are, and then go.
2S: Are you putting anything special into the bag for the week?
JH: I’m heading to the range today to try out the new PING driver, the G25, so we’ll see how that goes. I’ve been hearing that the rage this week has been the new Callaway driver; Roger Cleveland is here with the Callaway tour van, and he’s fitting guys for the drivers and fairways, so I think there will be 5 or 6 guys bagging them for the weekend.
2S: Who do you have on the bag caddying for you at this tournament?
JH: Mike Christianson, he’s a state amateur champion, played at Duke, and for the past five years he’s been caddying for Kevin Streelman on the PGA Tour.
2S: What does the course look like?
JH: It’s in good shape, it’s soft right now but I think it might firm up a bit, which would be good for me – but if it does, it’ll be firm for everybody. For the longer guys, the Lehmans, these par-5s are very reachable. That’s less so for finesse guys like myself, which is fine, because I’ve been working very hard with my wedges all week trying to get them down. The wedge game and putting will be more important for me than shots off the tee.
2S: In the past several years, the winners’ scores have been all over the place, from the low 190s up to the mid 200s. What changes about the course from year to year?
JH: The weather: if it’s firm and fast, it’ll be tough for us finesse guys to have a chance, because the bombers will be able to hit every par-5 and two of the par-4s, but if they aren’t able to reach any of those holes, it becomes a wedge contest where the finesse guys have the advantage. In the past we’ve seen both ends, with (2007 champion) D.A. Weibring, Jay Haas (2011) and Hale Irwin (1997, 1999, 2002) winning with finesse games, and in other years Tom Purtzer (2006), R.W. Eaks (2008) and Bernhard Langer (2009, 2012), some of the bombers taking it home.
2S: So depending on the year, each facet of the game can be the deciding factor?
JH: Yes, and the greens are perfect, so we’ll see a lot of guys rolling in putts this week and it’s going to be a birdie-fest, which (tournament director) Hollis Cavner will love because it gets the fans buzzing – that’s what they want to see out there.
2S: If you were there as a fan, what else would you want to see this weekend?
JH: Well, of course, there’s the Greats of Golf Challenge, where you’ve got Arnold, Lee Trevino, Johnny Miller, and, this year, Annika Sorenstam, Nancy Lopez, and the LPGA Greats group on Saturday. They play right along with the leaders, so it would be great to watch. For Minnesotans, you’ve got Tom Lehman, obviously, and myself, who’s been out here quite a bit, Berry, who plays a lot of tournaments, and then it’s the first time for Sorenson and Podas, so it will be interesting to see how these five Minnesota guys fit into the mix. On Saturday, I’d make sure I was in the bleachers on 18 when the legends come through. It will be priceless, and the temperatures won’t be in the 80s, so you can stick around up there for a while pretty comfortably. There are a number of other spots – behind the ninth green is pretty cool because the ninth plays pretty hard – and I think seeing tee shots is a fun way to go, and gets you moving around a little bit. They’ll pair the elite players on Friday, with the Hall of Famers playing together, the past winners playing together, and the rookies playing together; in the middle of the day, those Hall-of-Fame guys will be teeing off of both nines and that will be a fun time to be on the course.
2S: What’s your take on the LPGA group out there for the first time this year?
JH: I think they’ve got an excellent chance of winning it, and with Annika putting on a youth clinic Saturday morning at Tartan Park in St. Paul, that will be fun for people.
2S: What is it about the 3M Championship that brings these big names to the table?
JH: Hollis Cavner — he runs five of these tournaments, he treats the players right – the weather’s good, and having Callaway here is a big part of it, with Palmer and Gary Player, who both signed lifetime contracts with the company shortly before Ely Callaway passed away.
2S: How many times have you played in this tournament?
JH: This is my 10th.
2S: Is there a favorite moment you’ve had in that time?
JH: I had a real chance to win about five years ago (in 2007) and I ended up finishing third. Standing on the 18th fairway, I thought I was one back of D.A. [Weibring], and I birdied it after I hit a really good shot to get on the green in two, but I left the eagle putt short. I shot 8-under that Sunday, which was good, but it was one of those birdie-fest years and D.A. birdied 17 and 18 to put it away.
John Harris tees off Friday at 10:30 am. Coverage begins Friday at 12:00 pm EST on The Golf Channel.