When Brad James became an assistant for Minnesota’s men’s golf program in 1997, he began an annual trek to his native Australia to recruit.
His travels have paid off over the last seven years, even as he moved from assistant to coach in 2002.
His efforts have produced James McLean, the 1998 NCAA champion, Ben Meyers and recent PING All-American and All-Big Ten selection Simon Nash.
Nash’s eligibility expired when the Gophers’ season ended last June. But the Australian-bred golfers have continued to show up in Minneapolis.
This year, Bronson La’Cassie is starting where his countrymen left off. A native of Brisbane, Austrailia, La’Cassie has been the Gophers’ top finisher in their last three tournaments and in four of their last five.
In his last three competitions, the 21-year-old finished in the top seven, including a second-place score at the Fossum Invitational last weekend.
La’Cassie is blossoming at the right time of the year, with the Gophers looking to defend their Big Ten title this weekend in Ann Arbor, Mich.
“He is going to keep playing well,” teammate Justin Smith said Sunday. “He seems really relaxed.”
Smith also said he believes La’Cassie is one of the top golfers in the country.
James, for one, isn’t surprised by La’Cassie’s success thus far. James started watching his scores approximately four years ago and made a home visit almost two years ago.
“I approached him and told him what America and our system had to offer,” he said. “My expectations for him are very high.”
La’Cassie, who was unavailable for comment, informed an Australian golf Web site last summer that he chose to come to the United States because of his future career plans.
“It is Ö my desire to turn pro-fessional eventually,” La’Cassie told iseekgolf.com. “And this offers a great opportunity to play competitively, week in week out, on great golf courses.”
After posting his recent scores, La’Cassie seems on his way to reaching that goal.
Lineup for Big Ten set
The only question mark in Minnesota’s lineup heading into Saturday’s opening round of the Big Ten Championships was who would fill out the fifth spot.
La’Cassie, Smith, David Morgan and Ben Greve were essentially locks.
After sophomore Ryan Paulson returned last weekend from a shoulder injury, James decided to give him the nod over freshman Clayton Rask.
“It was a tough decision,” James said. “Ryan is a little more experienced, which is very important at this event.”
James added that Rask did well this year and will continue to get better.
James said he believes Minnesota is peaking at the right time. This week he had the team fine-tune its pitching, chipping and putting and “a few things that didn’t go as well” at the Fossum Invitational.
En route to winning their second-straight Big Ten title last year, three Gophers finished in the top five.
Matt Anderson was the event’s overall best finisher. Nash also cracked the top five. Only Smith returns from those three.
The 54-hole tournament will be played at the University of Michigan Golf Course, designed by Alister MacKenzie.