A.J. Michaelson is excused from morning workouts at Mariucci Arena over the next few days. The Gophers hockey senior forward will swap his hockey stick for a golf club on Monday in the first round of the Minnesota Golf Association Amateur Championship at Northland Country Club in Duluth.
He is one of 156 amateurs to qualify for the 112th running of the three-day event, which was won last year by former college hockey player Jesse Bull.
Michaelson, like many on the Gophers hockey roster, spends much of his offseason on the golf course. Two summers ago, he decided to make it more than just recreation. With the help of his uncle John Elasky, a PGA-certified golf pro at Boulder Point Golf Club in Elko, Minn., he’s become somewhat of a two-sport star.
He qualified for the Amateur Championship with a 4-over-par 75 in the June 22 qualifier at New Prague Golf Club. He had two birdies on the front nine and two more on the back to finish tied for 11th place.
“I played in high school and played growing up, but hockey has always been my No. 1 sport,” said Michaelson, who played in 34 games last season for the Big Ten champion Gophers. “I never really tried for any [golf] tournaments after high school. [The qualifier] was the second one now, and I’ve been playing pretty well.”
Gophers hockey associate head coach Mike Guentzel jokes that if Michaelson lifts weights too hard, it’s going mess up his golf swing and the 300-plus yard drive that makes him dangerous on the course.
Michaelson recently got a close-up look of the other tools required to win an Amateur Championship. His summer caddying job at Spring Hill Golf Club allowed him the opportunity to caddie for a group that included defending champion Bull.
Though the conversation of the group mostly centered on hockey, Michaelson couldn’t help but admire Bull’s golf game.
“I just remember watching how well he struck the ball,” Michaelson said. “There’s something that just transfers over [from hockey to golf]. It might be the slapshot and the long drive. I feel like all hockey players hit the ball really far.”
Bull’s ball striking might not be as sharp as it was a year ago when he won the title at Golden Valley Country Club, though. His golf game took a back seat as he transitioned to a new financial advising firm, he said. The defending champ joked, “If there’s one year to be exempt [from qualifying], it’s this year.”
“I knew this summer golf would not be on the radar or a focus of mine,” said Bull, a former Division I hockey player and golfer at North Dakota. “I’ve learned to get output from golf you have to put input. At least I do. It doesn’t just come by showing up. I’ve tried to do more [over the last week] … I actually feel good.”
Michaelson also doesn’t have big plans for this week. He’s just hoping to have fun and make the cut after Tuesday’s second round. The 60 lowest scores advance to play in Wednesday’s final round.
“I’m a better hockey player. Golf is hard,” Michaelson said. “I play golf for fun, so I’m not nervous at all. … Maybe if I play well [some of my Gophers teammates will] come up on Wednesday.”