Ireland native Turner crosses the pond, fills a need

Niall Turner gave coach Brad James what he was looking for this weekend.

David McCoy

Niall Turner came to the United States searching for something Ireland couldn’t offer.

But it just might be Minnesota’s men’s golf team has found what it’s looking for.

Coming out of high school, Turner spent two years playing golf at Presentation College in Ireland, his native country.

But after turning 21, Turner knew that, if he wanted to continue his golf career, he would need to do it somewhere else, he said.

“In the golf scene back home, you can only play junior golf until you’re 21,” Turner said. “And after I finished junior golf, there’s senior golf. But there’s not a lot of competition, unless you go abroad.”

Turner said he got interested in Minnesota through a friend of his father’s, who was trying to get his son, David Daly, recruited.

Turner started “chatting” with Gophers coach Brad James and then decided on Minnesota.

But the move wasn’t entirely about golf. Turner said he felt he needed a change of scenery.

“After my second year (at Presentation College), it was just going to be more of the same old scene,” Turner said. “I was kind of sick of it, and so I applied (to Minnesota) kind of late in January of 2004.”

Turner lost a year of eligibility because of playing at Presentation College. So while it’s his first year at Minnesota, he’s listed as a sophomore.

And like any international student, there was an adjustment period. Turner said he had to get used to being in such a big city and the different style of golf courses.

But change was definitely a good thing. Turner said the most helpful thing about being at Minnesota has been the more regimented schedule.

“At home, there’s no structure,” he said. “Over the winter, you don’t do anything. But you’re still golfing five times a week over the winter here.”

The practice has obviously helped. Minnesota had been waiting all spring for someone to complement Bronson La’Cassie, who had been the top Gophers finisher in the last six tournaments dating back to Oct. 5.

But during the weekend, Turner led the Gophers. His eighth-place individual finish paced the Gophers to a sixth-place team finish at the Boilermaker Invitational in West Lafayette, Ind.

James said that’s what he’s wanted season – even if he had to go all the way to Ireland to get it.

“It’s definitely good to see him do that,” James said. “To contend for a Big Ten Championship, you need to have all five guys clicking. They need to step up to the plate and support everyone else.”

Higginbotham awarded

Minnesota softball catcher Megan Higginbotham was named national co-player of the week Tuesday. She was already Big Ten co-player of the week after going 12-for-14 in her last four games.