Former U golfer and hockey player John Harris named director of golf

Trevor Born

John Harris, the man who helped win MinnesotaâÄôs first NCAA hockey championship and two months later took down a Big Ten golf championship of his own, is MinnesotaâÄôs new director of golf. The Gophers made the announcement official Friday afternoon, though reports of the decision began almost three weeks ago. Harris will take over the spot vacated in July by Brad James, who left the position after 23 years to become high performance director for Golf Australia and the Australian Institute of Sport. Harris, whose new position oversees both the menâÄôs and womenâÄôs golf teams, inherits the pressing business of filling associate head coaching vacancies for both teams. Associate menâÄôs head coach Andrew Tank took a head coaching job at Iowa State earlier this month, and Kristine Wessinger will leave to start a varsity program at St. Catherine University in St. Paul, the school announced Thursday. He said the program has received several applications for the womenâÄôs coaching job, and that given the interest in both positions, he hopes to have them filled in the next three weeks. The 58-year-old Harris said he hadnâÄôt thought much about coaching until recently, and that he even volunteered to help athletic director Joel Maturi search for a new director among his golf peers. Maturi eventually mentioned that if Harris, who spent the past eight years playing on the PGAâÄôs Champions Tour (formerly the Senior PGA Tour), felt his competitive golf days coming to an end, the spot was open to him. âÄúRealistically IâÄôm about at the end of my playing career,âÄù Harris said. âÄúI was hoping to play another three to five years, but unfortunately I havenâÄôt played well enough to do that, so IâÄôm probably going to just play sparingly the next few years.âÄù The Roseau-native came to Minnesota in 1971 on a hockey scholarship from Herb Brooks and played in 110 games as a four-year letter winner. He was on the 1971 runner-up squad as a freshman, and was a senior captain and the second leading scorer on the 1974 team that beat Michigan Tech for the schoolâÄôs first of five national titles. Meanwhile, on the golf course, Harris was also a four-year letter winner and as a junior took 17th in the NCAA championships and All-American honors. Despite pressure from Brooks and others to choose a sport to focus on, Harris came back as a senior and posted the Big TenâÄôs lowest season scoring average (73.8), won a second All-American distinction and the individual Big Ten championship. âÄúItâÄôs been in the back of my mind a while that I want to give back to this program and help them out however possible,âÄù Harris said. He briefly chased a hockey career after graduation, playing a season with the minor league New England Whalers, but left for the PGA the next year. His highest finish was a tie for 26th in the 1976 Hawaiian Open. In 1979 he left golf to start a successful insurance company, Harris-Homeyer Insurance, and regained his amateur status in 1983. He made a serious mark on the Minnesota amateur scene, winning four Minnesota State Mid-Amateur and three Minnesota State Amateur titles, along with the 1993 U.S. Amateur title. Harris turned pro again at age 50, the minimum for joining the Champions Tour, and made $3,027,742 in his eight seasons, including a win in a one-hole playoff at the 2006 Commerce Bank Championship worth $225,000. Harris comes from a notable family in both golf and Gophers athletics: his wife, Nancy, coached the womenâÄôs golf team from 1987 to 1997, his brother, Robby, was a linemate on the 1976 national championship hockey team and his father, Bob, captained the 1946 Gophers hockey team.