Even early in the week, the galleries at Hazeltine have been enormous and enthusiastic. (Franklin/Getty Images)
Local Knowledge: Head Professional Mike Schultz's insight
What makes this PGA Championship so special? Mike Schultz, the PGA Head Professional at Hazeltine National, fills us in on the galleries, past champions, Hazeltine's partnership with the city of Chaska and even who he thinks will prevail this week.
By T.J. Auclair, PGA.com Interactive Producer
CHASKA, Minn. -- The season’s final major -- the PGA Championship -- is upon us this week at Hazeltine National Golf Club. Tiger Woods is still major-less in 2009 but leads the PGA Tour with five wins on the season, including the last two weeks in a row. Before Tiger sets out for his last chance at a major in ’09, we caught up with Hazeltine PGA Head Professional Mike Schultz.
PGA.com: Well, Mike, the tournament hasn’t even begun yet, but these crowds are incredible. Tell me a little bit about the reception the PGA Championship has gotten thus far in Chaska.
Schultz: I think one of the main reasons why any of the major golf associations comes to this area is because of the quality of the golf course, the infrastructure we have, the membership support. But, I think a huge part of it is the great fan and community support we get from the surrounding cities and the entire state of Minnesota -- all along the upper Midwest, really. Players have all commented that they’ve never seen anything like this, but they have short memories, because it was similar to this in 2002.
PGA.com: One thing I’ve heard a lot about since getting here on Monday is how much Rich Beem has embraced the membership at Hazeltine and vice versa since his win here in the 2002 PGA Championship. You don’t see that very often, do you?
Schultz: Rich, as all of our past champions, are honored I would say by being offered an honorary membership. We encourage them to use it. Rich has really embraced it and has come up on numerous occasions, brought friends, had matches with some of his buddies. Rich has come back and helped us with marketing and fundraising. We’ve had a number of our members travel to El Paso where Rich lived and now currently where he lives in Austin, to go and play matches with his buddies down there.
PGA.com: Chaska seems like a relatively quiet place. There’s not a whole lot of hustle-bustle near Hazeltine. What’s it been like to see the course transform into a big city?
Schultz: First of all, Chaska is a huge partner in anything we do here at Hazeltine. We need the resident support, we need the official support and they never fail to give that to us. As the city grows, we know that they’re also inconvenienced, too. They’re sharing in some pains of that growth. I know the pride of having their community being the focus of the golf world -- all over the world and hundreds of millions of homes -- that’s a sense of pride for all of them.
As we saw in 2002 when we had great help from the fire department as we’re getting this time from response teams if needed for fire and any evacuation help or health problems, the city has provided to us. We’re just happy that Chaska is presented to the world as a partner in this championship with Hazeltine, obviously, and the PGA of America.
PGA.com: I’m sure there has been a lot of anxious anticipation in recent months knowing that the PGA Championship is right around the corner. What’s it like to finally have it here?
Schultz: You can draw a blueprint and hope that everything turns out something like what you drew. At least to this point, I think it’s right on. There’s a sense of pride, obviously, for all those involved. Our committees, our members, the city officials have helped us to see the plans come to fruition and to see the great fan support and the great comments from the spectators and from the players.
PGA.com: Final thing, Mike. You’ve got Tiger Woods here having won in each of the last two weeks. Phil Mickelson is here making just his second start since the U.S. Open. Padraig Harrington, the defending champ, seems to be out of his funk after a tie for second last week. Who do you like coming out on top this week? Any of those three? Someone else?
Schultz: I think the way the golf course plays and from what I’ve heard from both the long hitters and the short hitters, I think there’s an equation and the championship is going to go to the player who’s playing and putting the best this week. Obviously the players that are doing that -- Tiger is doing that now; Phil is coming off an event, which we hope is going to knock some of the rust off of his game, he has many other very important things going on his life too.
We’d love to see Phil and Tiger and some of the other international stars and other Americans like an Anthony Kim, or Steve Stricker, who’s an upper Midwesterner guy. Also a guy like Lee Westwood, who’s been playing very well lately, too. They could all contend and give this the great championship flavor that I think we’ll see on Sunday.