U golfer puts career on hold, prepares for mission

by Sarah Mitchell

Gophers freshman golfer Garrett Clegg fired his first swing at age five. Using his father’s set of cut-down clubs, the young Clegg was not instantly taken by the sport.
“We went out twice,” Clegg said. “Then I didn’t do anything until I was like 11 or 12. My friend was playing and I wanted to play with him. We played like 20 times that summer, and eventually we joined a country club.”
The Bountiful, Utah, native won his first tournament when he was 15 years old, and soon he was being courted by several collegiate programs, including Texas A&M, Brigham Young, Notre Dame and Minnesota.
All it took was one incident at a tournament in South Carolina to attract the attention of Gophers assistant coach Brad James.
“He just seemed to love the game so much,” James said. “He kept practicing the same chip shot over for like two hours. Right then, I knew he was dedicated.”
Clegg decided on Minnesota, but before accepting the program’s offer, Clegg made the coaching staff aware of another decision he had made.
Following in the footsteps of his father and older sister, Clegg had already chosen to go on a Mormon mission. The mission is scheduled to last two years, with Clegg leaving by early July, which meant the Gophers could not reap the benefits of Clegg’s signing for several years.
“I let the coaches know in December 1997, when they first started recruiting me,” Clegg said. “That was one of the first things I let them know.”
Clegg still doesn’t know where he’ll be sent, but Brazil, Hong Kong, Tokyo and Chile are among the possibilities. Wherever he ends up, Clegg admits that risks do exist.
“A few months ago in Russia, two guys were taken hostage,” Clegg said. “In another incident, a guy was shot in the head, but he was sent home and recovered.”
When Clegg returns to Minnesota, a redshirt season will await him. Typically, all freshmen in the Gophers golf program are redshirted their first year, but because of Clegg’s unusual situation, an exception was made.
The freshman even found his name amongst the starting five during the fall season, including a three-round showing at the Missouri Bluffs Invitational in mid-October. On a par 71, Clegg shot rounds of 73, 73 and 77.
“I told (Gophers head coach John Means) that Clegg would play this season and he didn’t think he would,” James said. “We have that battle, though.”
Because he doesn’t expect to touch a club during the two-year mission, Clegg said he will use the first year back as a relearning period. Then the Gopher will be left with three years of eligibility and a dream to contend in the PGA.
“I’ll lose the feel and the touch by not playing consistently over the next couple of years. The swing will be the same, but the timing will be tough,” Clegg said. “Putting and chipping will be extremely difficult, but that’s the toughest part of the game.”
For the second time in his life, Clegg is walking away from golf. But this time, he expects to gain something more.
“I’m not nervous now, but I might be when the time draws nearer,” Clegg said. “It’s definitely a learning experience. I’m going to grow a lot.”