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Where are they now?: James McLean

04/06/2004, 12:00am CDT
By Rob Litt

Where Are They Now?

Moving from Melbourne, Australia to Minneapolis, Minnesota can be a major adjustment for anyone. Throw in the added pressure of adjusting to life as a college student balancing the demands of Big Ten sports, and you have the recipe for disaster. That is unless you are James McLean.

McLean made the move look easy as he turned the collegiate golfing world on its head when he shocked the traditional golfing powers and won the individual title as a freshman. His 17-under par finish at the University of New Mexico Championships Course in 1998 tied a then-NCAA record held by John Inman, Phil Mickelson and Justin Leonard. Not bad company to be in.

An All-American golfer in 1998 and 1999, McLean turned pro after his sophomore year at Minnesota and is in his fourth year as a professional. He spent the first year on the European Tour, his second year on the Nationwide Tour and broke through to the PGA Tour last season where he made five of 19 cuts before suffering a season-ending wrist injury. He currently has a medical-exemption and is targeting a return to the Tour in early summer. Recently the former NCAA Champion took time to reflect on his journey to Minnesota, his time as a professional and the relationship he has with Gopher legend, Tom Lehman.

GH.com: Where has your post Gopher career taken you?

McLean: When I left the U I played a year on the European Tour. This is a tour that is very competitive and we played some wonderful courses. I had some good success there and decided to play the next year at the Nationwide Tour here in the States. People often don't realize the caliber of the golf on the Nationwide Tour. The difference between this tour and the main PGA Tour often can be a stroke here or there. It's more cutthroat than the main tour so far in my experience. After a year on the Nationwide Tour I got my invitation for the PGA Tour where I played last year. I played in 19 tournaments and made the cut in five of them. I think my best finish was 18th at the Chrysler in Arizona. I suffered a wrist injury and am dealing with that now. I hope to get back on the Tour in early Summer.

GH.com: What has been your highlight on the PGA Tour?

McLean: I had a double-eagle at the Honda where I holed out from 221 yards with a 4-iron on the 17th hole of the second round. I didn't make the cut though. My other highlight was obviously the Chrysler in Arizona. That paycheck was nice. (McLean received $40,500)

GH.com: Where is your home course?

McLean: I just bought a house in Minnesota and I play out of Stone Ridge. It's a beautiful course and the management there is outstanding. I have an honorary membership and am very appreciative of the staff.

GH.com: Is life on the Tour what you anticipated?

McLean: Yes and no. I really enjoy the competition and I can feel my game improving. But it can be a bit lonely on the road. When I was at the U I had five other guys to share the memories and experiences with. On the Tour I am on my own. It was really fun being a part of the team.

GH.com: Have you had much contact with Tom Lehman?

McLean: Tom has been a fantastic mentor for me. We've played quite a few practice rounds together through the past few years and he's always gone out of his way to see how I am doing and to lend advice. When the Gophers won the national title a few years back he called me to celebrate and he gave me a national title t-shirt the next time he saw me. We also watched a Gopher football game together last fall when we were both in Arizona.

GH.com: What does it mean to you to be a Gopher?

McLean: I had an incredible two years at Minnesota. It was such a great experience both in golf and off the course. The coaches were awesome and I made some incredible friends on the team that I still keep in touch with. We get together whenever we're in the same city and now that I have a home in Minneapolis I will have them over often. Moving from Australia I was nervous, but the coaches and the players made me feel at home. I like that there is an Australian pipeline to Minnesota. I was very happy when they won the title. I bragged to a lot of people on the Tour that didn't think we could play golf up North. That title opened a lot of eyes.

GH.com: What advice would you give to the current Gopher team?

McLean: More than anything just to soak everything up. I only had two years there and it flew by so fast. The ability to be with four or five other guys on the road is pretty fun. Just hanging out and getting to know one another are parts I remember best. As far as advice on their game, just listen to the coaches. They have a great staff there that can push their games to the next level.



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