James keys Gophers’ golf revival

Coach Brad James will try to lead his team to its third Big Ten title in four years.

David McCoy

When Minnesota’s men’s golf team walks onto the course today to compete in the Big Ten Championships, it will do so carrying with it something you won’t find in any of the players’ golf bags.

A history of success.

And there’s nothing that parallels that success more closely than coach Brad James.

In 2002, Minnesota won its first-ever NCAA championship. It also won its first Big Ten championship in 30 years.

That was James’ first season as coach. In fact, he wasn’t even the official coach yet – while the team searched for a permanent, James was interim coach.

James was handed the reins when previous coach John Means resigned. Means was found to have charged privately used airline tickets and meals to the University’s account.

“It was just interesting times,” said senior Ben Greve, who is the only golfer left who played for Means. “Coach Means just got in trouble for some violations and kind of got forced out, and Brad took over. It was very trying times, but it kind of made us work harder individually.”

At the same time, Minnesota’s athletics department slated the team for elimination – along with the women’s golf team and men’s gymnastics team.

James played a huge role in saving the program, aiding in the rush to raise money to endow scholarships as well as secure scholarships from local companies.

But what makes all of that even more impressive is that James could have escaped the mess.

He was a candidate for the head job at Michigan but declined to interview for it because of concerns about the Gophers’ future.

“I think it was important that I stayed in order to help fund raise,” James said. “Not just for the men’s golf team but for the entire athletic department. I think if I or any of my players would have left, it would have been difficult for people to write checks.”

Minnesota responded the next season by winning the team’s first-ever back-to-back Big Ten titles. James was also named Big Ten coach of the year.

And though it seems the natural recourse to see James as the reason for Minnesota’s recent success, he said the key has not been getting his players to look to him but to themselves.

“It’s important for the players to realize that it’s their team not my team,” James said. “It’s important they know that. I can motivate, but I can’t force them. It’s their decision on how hard they want to work.”

James said that putting emphasis on his players being self-motivated was the biggest change he wanted to make when he took over for Means three years ago.

James was an assistant coach under Means for six years and played under him for four, but he never won a Big Ten championship in that decade.

Now, as coach, it’s something he’ll have a chance to do for the third time in four years this weekend.

“That’s what we work for all year,” sophomore Bronson La’Cassie said. “It would be really rewarding to win. It doesn’t get much better than that.”