Three generations of Minnesota Gopher golfers – try saying that three times fast – teed off on the front nine at TPC Twin Cities on the eve of the 3M Open.
Leading the way was the ageless wonder, Tom Lehman, 61, who consulted on a re-design of the Arnold Palmer layout in 2018. Lehman played with a couple of kids more than half his age: Erik Van Rooyen, a 30-year-old South African who completed his college eligibility in 2013 and met his wife while attending “The U,” and Angus Flanagan, a 21-year-old senior on the team from Woking, England, who was named a third-team All-American by Golfweek and a first-team All-Big Ten honoree.
Lehman made the cut last month at the Charles Schwab Challenge and the five-time Tour winner and Minnesota native is a beloved figure in his home state. Van Rooyen and Flanagan were looking forward to the chance to pick Lehman’s brain on the course setup.
“I’ve never played with Tom Lehman, so I’m looking forward to playing with him today. And then myself and Angus, it’s almost a couple generations of Gopher golfers that will play together, so I’m looking forward to it,” Van Rooyen said. “It’s good fun to reminisce about the days we were there and to talk about the stuff they’re doing now. You know, I’m 30 years old, but I still feel like I’m 21 years old.”
While Van Rooyen is on the verge of earning his PGA Tour card after a T-3 finish at the WGC Mexico Championship, Flanagan is making his PGA Tour debut on a sponsor’s exemption.
“I think a lot of guys have been like ‘Who’s this kid?’ ” Flanagan said. “Because I’m 21, but I look like I’m 15. So, they’re probably wondering ‘Who’s this guy?’ Like, is he one of the guys’ sons or something like that?’ ”
Flanagan earned his invite into the 3M Open by winning the Minnesota State Open with a course-record, final-round 64 at Royal Golf Club in Lake Elmo. At the prize-giving ceremony, he learned he would be receiving more than just a trophy.
“I kind of heard rumors that there was going to be a surprise for me at the prize giving,” Flanagan explained. “My caddie stupidly came up to me and said, ‘Hey, there’s going to be something, but I can’t tell you.’ So as soon as (tournament director) Hollis (Cavner) came up, I was thinking, ‘Oh, maybe it might be I don’t have to prequalify, I can go straight into the Monday qualifier.’ But then I mentioned something how I was stuck here (and unable to go home to England), kind of making it sound out like it’s a problem when it’s really not, and he used that in the speech and said, ‘Since you’re stuck here, I’d like to invite you to the 3M Open.’ ”
Even with a bit of a heads up, Flanagan was dumbfounded.
“It kind went through one ear and out the other because I just couldn’t process it with everything going on. It probably took me a good 30 seconds to actually realize like, ‘Wow, I’m actually playing against some of the guys I look up to, I see on TV,’ ” he said. “Sunday night I was out here practicing and I was on the range and I was talking to Russell Knox, and I’ve looked up to Russell because he’s from Scotland, my dad’s from Scotland as well. Then DJ turns up on the range and starts hitting balls next to me and I was just like, ‘Wow,’ I had to pinch myself a bit and say, ‘Is this real?’ I thought I was in a dream still.”
It’s a big step up from being co-medalist at the Big 10 Championship to playing against the likes of Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka, but Flanagan hopes to treat it no differently.
“My dad said it’s basically a college event that you play in with a couple TV stands around,” Flanagan said. “We’ve played college events before which have been broadcasted and stuff like that. There is no difference, but it’s probably just a college event with some of the top players in the world playing.”
And a couple of fellow Golden Gophers in Lehman and Van Rooyen to make it feel even more like just another college event.