Golf team opens season in Wayzata under new director

by Nate Gotlieb

The Gopher menâÄôs golf team will have only one NCAA All-American at Spring Hill Golf Club this weekend, and itâÄôs new director of golf John Harris. Harris joined the Gophers this summer following a successful golf career as both an amateur and professional. With the golf resume and his Minnesota roots, athletics director Joel Maturi used Harris as a resource in the long coaching search this summer to fill the vanacy left by Brad James after 22 years on the job. He wasnâÄôt just a resource for long, however, as Maturi eventually offered Harris the job. A two time All-American golfer for the Gophers, Harris was originally a hockey recruit for then-menâÄôs hockey coach Herb Brooks. As a senior in the winter of 1974, Harris played a large role in the GopherâÄôs first NCAA hockey championship. That spring, Harris contributed to another Gopher championship, just with a different swing. The Gopher menâÄôs golf team won the Big Ten golf championship that spring with Harris winning the Les Bolstad award as the conferenceâÄôs lowest scorer. Harris played only three years on the PGA tour, opting to start his own insurance company in 1979. He quietly made a name for himself in the business world while dominating the Minnesota amateur golf scene after gaining back amateur status in 1983, and from 1987 to 1992 he won four Minnesota State Mid-Amateur and two Minnesota State Amateur tournaments, two of the primer Minnesota golf tournaments. Harris permanently left his mark on the national golf stage in 1993 when he won the U.S. Amateur Championship, which was won the following year by Tiger Woods. At the age of 50, Harris took a second shot at a professional golf career on the Champions Tour, formerly the Senior PGA Tour, in 2002. He won the 2006 Commerce Bank Championship finish the tournament with a 67 on the last day of the tournament and a dramatic win in a one-hole playoff. While Harris is ready to take on yet another new career, he realizes the prominence of his position in terms of the man he is replacing. âÄúBrad set a bar that was real high, winning a national championship and a number of big ten championships,âÄù Harris told James was officially hired as the menâÄôs golf coach in 2002 after leading the team to the NCAA title as the interim head coach earlier that spring. Under his direction, the menâÄôs golf team won back to back Big Ten Titles and made six consecutive NCAA tournament appearances, finishing third in 2006 and ninth in 2007. James also helped promote golf around the state through his annual Brad James summer golf camp, and Harris said he wants to do that as well. âÄúI want to try to bring all the who support golf in Minnesota back together again,âÄù he said. âÄúâĦHopefully my passion is going to become infectious for all of them.âÄù The teamâÄôs first true test is this weekend in the Gopher Invitational held at Spring Hill Golf Club in Wayzata. The Gophers have traditionally fared well in this event, winning it in 2005 and finishing third last year. While the gophers were traditionally strong under James, the team faltered in the Big Ten championship last season, finishing eighth. They face the challenge of replacing Ben Pisani, a two-time member of the PING All-Regional team. Harris hopes to someday get the program back to the level of the 2002 NCAA national championship squad, starting by building a solid foundation this fall. âÄúFall is going to be a learning process,âÄù he said. âÄúIâÄôm going to learn about [the players], and theyâÄôre going to learn about me.âÄù The team brings back all but two players from last yearâÄôs roster including senior Donald Constable. Constable placed 16th in the Big Ten Championship last spring and took second in the Minnesota State Amateur tournament this spring, qualifying him for the U.S. Amateur in ChamberâÄôs Bay.