Red Wing's Herzog has a happy homecoming with Gophers golf team
Leah Herzog transferred from the University of Nebraska to the University of Minnesota prior to the start of the 2021-22 school year. The Red Wing native and former Minnesota Miss Golf couldn't be happier with her decision to play for her home-state Gophers, the team she grew up dreaming of playing for.
Leah Herzog took a leap a year ago.
In one sense, it was a leap of faith. In another sense, she knew exactly what she was doing.
Now that she’s a year into it, the 2019 Red Wing High School graduate couldn’t be happier to be back home.
“It’s been awesome, honestly,” said Herzog, who wrapped up her first season as a member of the University of Minnesota women’s golf team last month. “I’ve had so much fun with it. There’s something about playing for my home-state university that’s been really cool.
“I’ve gotten along super well with my teammates and coaches. I’ve been very fortunate.”
Herzog — who won Minnesota’s Miss Golf award as a senior at Red Wing in 2019, when she helped the Wingers win the Class AA state championship — had settled in nicely at the University of Nebraska when the COVID-19 pandemic hit late in her freshman year.
She didn’t compete for the Cornhuskers during her sophomore year, in 2020-21. During that season, the NCAA relaxed its transfer portal rules, effectively allowing athletes to be able to transfer one time without the penalty of having to sit out for one school year.
As Herzog weighed her options, the idea of playing closer to home became more and more appealing. She wasn’t recruited by the University of Minnesota during her high school days, but the Gophers’ coaching staff turned over during Herzog’s second season at Nebraska, with head coach Rhyll Brinsmead and assistant coach Matt Higgins taking control of the program.
“When everything happened with COVID, things changed in the college golf world,” Herzog said. “It was kind of a weird time and I realized how much I wanted to be closer to home. I felt the change would be good and necessary.
“I put my name in the portal and things worked out. I was lucky enough to have such a great opportunity to play as a Gopher.”
When Herzog committed to Brinsmead and the Gophers, it was the realization of a dream that began when her father Mark — her coach all the way up through her high school years — began bringing her to the course before she even started Kindergarten.
“Since I was a kid, I always wanted to be a Gopher,” Leah Herzog said. “I always watched their tournaments and followed them when I was younger.
“I feel like I have a second chance.”
Brinsmead and Higgins — who reached out to Herzog about transferring to Minnesota before she had a chance to reach out to them — couldn’t be happier to have Herzog in their lineup now, rather than competing against them. Herzog played in 10 tournaments during the 2021-22 season and finished with a 78.21 stroke average per 18 holes. Her best round this season was a 69 at the Westbrook Invitational (hosted by the University of Wisconsin) in Peoria, Ariz., on Feb. 28.
“I didn’t really know anyone on the team, or the coaches, super well when I came here,” Herzog said, “but it’s been a best-case scenario. The coaches have helped me so much in my game and as a person.
“The coaches have really had an impact … I can tell how much they care about me as a person. They’re also really good at being coaches and helping me with my game. They see things in my game that I need to work on and they’re very open about it. They’ll have a conversation instead of just telling me what I need to do. They trust me and my game.”
That confidence and poise showed on the course this season. Herzog is one of five Gophers who played all 28 rounds and her low-round of 69 was the second-best round shot by any Gopher in 2021-22.
“Honestly, I think when I went to Nebraska, it was quite the adjustment,” she said. “I was moving out of home and trying to be independent, and was seven hours away from home, as well. There’s a lot of new changes and challenges you’re facing. School is a little harder; you have to learn how to schedule, how to be time-efficient.
“I had to learn how to organize my time and now I’d say I’m a very organized person. It’s taught me a lot of those life skills … overall it’s been a very good experience with a lot of transitions. It’s been enjoyable.”
Herzog, who will be a senior in the fall, is majoring in English and has plans to follow in her dad’s footsteps and become a golf coach after graduating, hopefully at the college level.
She said winning high school state championships at Red Wing are still some of her best golf memories to this day. She said she still texts teammate and best friend Sophia Yoemans — who’ll be a senior on the University of Missouri team this fall — on a daily basis.
“Looking back, high school golf was honestly the best,” Herzog said. “I loved it, it was so much fun. Being teammates with my sister (Stephanie, who played at the University of Iowa from 2017-21) and with Sophia, we had so much fun together.“I love college golf, but it’s different than high school. It was a good time and playing some of the best golf I’ve ever played was a highlight as well. I definitely miss it a lot.”