Former Gophers driving the Hooters Tour

Two golfers who played for Minnesota currently rank in the top 10.

For the majority of college athletes, playing a Division I sport is just a way to continue to take part in something they love for four years. Most go into their collegiate career knowing that there may not be a future at the professional level. But for some of the top competitors, there is a home in professional sports, and some former Minnesota golfers are finding their green future. As of Tuesday, two recent Gophers, Bronson LaâÄôCassie and Justin Smith , rank sixth and seventh, respectively , on the National Golf AssociationâÄôs Hooters Pro Golf Tour money list. The Hooters Tour is a developmental golf league, which turns into a stepping stone to either the Nationwide or PGA Tour for some golfers. LaâÄôCassie and Smith both said they still hope to play on the PGA Tour some day. âÄúTo be able to compete against the best players in the world is all you want. ThatâÄôs what you work hard every day for,âÄù Smith said. LaâÄôCassie said the Hooters Tour isnâÄôt ideal, but itâÄôs the best way to make money consistently. While LaâÄôCassie and Smith might be having the most successful seasons of the former Minnesota golfers, some other Gophers arenâÄôt far behind. Matthew Anderson currently ranks 26th on the money list, a list of total earnings, and Niall Turner is 54th. LaâÄôCassie also has a win this year, claiming the Sunset Hills NGA Classic title at in May. At the professional level, golf is solely an individual game, but Smith said it helps everyone to have a good base of friends when traveling and playing Hooters events. âÄúI found ways throughout the years how I do better with my weeks, how I get the most out of myself, and its by surrounding myself by the right people,âÄù Smith said. He said he often travels with Anderson and LaâÄôCassie and usually shares a hotel with Anderson. It can get lonely on the road, but Smith said having other guys around helps a lot. While the guys on the Hooters Tour may not hang out together all the time, they all try to represent Minnesota, LaâÄôCassie said. He said everyone uses a Gophers head cover and he still carries a maroon and gold golf bag that says Minnesota. One of the big differences between collegiate and professional golf is the responsibility, LaâÄôCassie said. In college everything was planned ahead of time, but he said now he has to make his own decisions about where he will be playing and how he will get there. Although LaâÄôCassie said he enjoys the responsibility, he and the other former Gophers on the Hooters Tour arenâÄôt far removed from collegiate golf. LaâÄôCassie said he speaks with Director of Golf Brad James over the phone occasionally. He also comes back to work with some of the current players and use the practice facility at Les Bolstad Golf Course, he said. Reflecting on his playing career at Minnesota, LaâÄôCassie said his time as a Gopher helped him reach his current place as a strong competitor on the Hooters Tour. âÄúI think the âÄòUâÄô is a great stepping stone, definitely prepared you for professional golf, for sure,âÄù he said. Smith works exclusively with Gophers associate head coach Andrew Tank . He said Tank has really helped his golf swing a lot since he started playing professionally. Smith comes back to the Twin Cities often to work with Tank and see his fiancé. The success some people have at the next level also reflects on the coaches, and Tank said he is proud to see how these former players are competing. âÄúItâÄôs great to see them having success, thatâÄôs something that is gratifying to see when youâÄôve been a part of someoneâÄôs career and had that close personal relationship,âÄù Tank said. Former golfers playing well also benefits recruiting, Tank said, because the type of players a program produces is a good way to measure the program. Players like LaâÄôCassie also help Minnesota be noticed because if anyone sees him on television during an event, they will see the big Gophers head cover and golf bag. Having a core of players with professional experience also benefits the current players, Tank said. He said the players can offer guidance and advice for the current Gophers that might be considering testing the professional waters. Victor Almstrom, who just finished his senior season , said he has plans to play professionally in Europe this summer and fall. He said he spoke with many people about his decision to turn pro, including James, LaâÄôCassie, Smith and former Gopher Simon Nash who has played on the Asian and European tours. Seeing former golfers from the program have success has given Almstrom more confidence about his future he said. âÄúIt shows that the program that we have, obviously, it works,âÄù Almstrom said. âÄúThe coaches are doing the right thing because a lot of the guys move on and do well as professional golfers.âÄù