The continuing strength of The European Tour in the global golfing sphere is emphasised once again this week when 35 Members converge on the Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, Minnesota for the final Major of the 2002 season, the US PGA Championship.
The same number participated 12 months ago at the Atlanta Athletic Club in Georgia when America’s David Toms claimed his first Major title, but all will be keen to follow in the footsteps of the last European Tour Member to taste US PGA Championship success, namely Fiji’s Vijay Singh at Sahalee in 1998.
Should that eventuality occur, it would tie the number of Majors won this season between the US PGA Tour and The European Tour, the US PGA Tour, in the guise of Tiger Woods taking the Masters Tournament and the US Open Championship while European Tour success was provided in the shape of Ernie Els in the 131st Open Golf Championship last month at Muirfield.
Els lines up again hoping to win his fourth Major title in total and he is joined by, amongst others, his fellow South African Retief Goosen, the 2001 Volvo Order of Merit winner, and the last non-American to win a Major in America, namely the 2001 US Open Championship at Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa Oaklahoma.
Els and Goosen, of course, sit first and second at the present moment on the Volvo Order of Merit but the strength of the challenge crossing the Atlantic Ocean is highlighted by the fact that 18 of the current top 20 will tee up in Minnesota.
Designed originally by Robert Trent Jones Snr and enhanced later by his son Rees, Hazeltine National Golf Club has evolved into one of America’s premier sites for Major Championship golf.
Its tradition of excellence includes it being one of only 44 clubs to have been selected by the Golf Digest magazine annually since 1966 in its section, ‘America’s 100 Greatest Golf Courses.’ In the 2001-02 list, the course was ranked 54th.
Throughout four decades, a relatively short period of time considering golf’s historical reach, Hazeltine National Golf Club is a course that has evolved with the game and remains a testing challenge into the 21st Century.
To that end, and in preparing for the arrival of the world’s best golfers this week, new bunkers have been installed on the first, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, tenth, 12th and 15th, bringing the total number of bunkers on the course now to 98.
In addition, new tees have also been added at the third, seventh, eighth, ninth, 11th, 12th, 16th and 18th, increasing the course by 121 yards in length from the one used for the 1991 US Open Championship when the late Payne Stewart beat Scott Simpson in an 18 hole play-off.