Editor’s note: This is the latest installment in a series titled Lumberjack Flashback, highlighting some of the greatest spring sports teams, athletes and moments in Bemidji High School history. Stories on each of Bemidji’s seven spring sports programs will be released in line with this year’s originally scheduled state tournament dates.
In perhaps the most storied boys golf program in Minnesota, one name appears on championship rosters more than any other. But even Andy Brink had to earn his spot.
As a seventh-grader in 1987, Brink casually waltzed up to a six-inch putt during a tournament and one-handed it. Not only did he miss, but Bemidji High School head coach Larry Perkins watched the episode from start to finish.
“He was really upset with me because he felt like I hadn’t given my best effort,” Brink said. “He didn't play me at the next meet. And in order for me to play varsity again, I had to requalify.
“But it was great. It was tough love. He wasn’t going to hand me anything, and he wanted to let me know that it doesn’t matter what you’re shooting, you approach every shot the same. And you never give up on a round. I learned my lesson the hard way.”
From then on, Brink was groomed into a five-time state champion.
The first four came as team titles with the Lumberjacks, and he locked up the program’s lone individual state championship as a senior in 1992.
“For me, it was the people involved,” Brink said. “… It was a great time to be a golfer in Bemidji. There were a lot of great players around, and a lot of great people behind the scenes supporting the program.”
‘He expected us to win every year’
To Brink, the program’s success began with two men.
“The leadership always started with the coach,” he said. “With Larry Perkins, we had the best leader in the state. He wanted us to win so bad. He made you prepare the right way so that you were going to win. And Jim Mergens was the same way. Even though he’s got a different personality, he was just as competitive.”
Perkins coached the program from 1980-89, while Mergens succeeded him and coached five seasons from 1990-94. The team four-peated as Class AA state champions from 1988-91, with each coach leading two of the squads.
BHS became just the second boys golf program in Minnesota to claim a still-standing record of four straight state titles. Only Brink and the Jacks have stretched the championship run to five years with an individual crown.
Perkins laid that foundation for Bemidji.
“(Perkins) demanded you practice hard, he demanded you learn the game the right way, he demanded you be mentally strong,” Brink said. “He expected us to win every year. He really created a mindset that we were the best, and we should win every time. But we prepared the right way, and that started with Larry.”
As an eighth-grader in 1988, Brink carded a two-round score of 157 as BHS captured its third-ever state title. Russ Simenson’s 152 ranked third overall and led the team to a score of 622, 17 strokes ahead of second-place Burnsville.
In 1989, the Lumberjacks needed a fifth-player tiebreaker to take the region crown from Fergus Falls, who matched Bemidji’s score of 308 in the one-day event. Nevertheless, BHS advanced by one stroke.
Things weren’t nearly as tense at state.
Simenson again paced the Jacks with a third-place finish, this time with a 150 showing as Bemidji carded a 621 and ran away from Grand Rapids by 19 strokes. Brink’s 163 was fifth among a team with plenty of depth, which Rick Grand, Matt Howe, Jim Clark and Scott Anderson also anchored.
“My eighth grade year, that’s the year we really felt like we should win state,” Brink said. “We knew that we were the best team. … Same thing my ninth grade year. At that point, we knew we were the best team. So winning it wasn’t a surprise to us, but we still had to go do it.”
More success under Mergens
Mergens ushered in a new era when he took over the program in 1990.
“Jim was such a different guy from Larry but equally as competitive and equally as caring about the kids,” Brink said. “He was somebody that everybody loved being around. He was really fun and in your corner and encouraging.”
The transition was seamless, as a state championship score of 647 proved. They broke free from a day-one tie with Minnetonka and won by six strokes. Brink carded a 161.
Not to be outdone, the team made history with its fourth consecutive trophy in 1991. By a 12-stroke margin over Elk River, BHS won with a 631. Brink, who shot a 156, finished fifth on the individual leaderboard.
“My sophomore, junior years, we weren’t as good as we were those first two years. But we still had great teams,” Brink said. “Now it was more guys my age, like Tony Burlingame and Matt Motzko and Jeff Noreen.”
A fifth straight team title evaded the Lumberjacks in 1992, as Apple Valley erased a two-shot deficit after day one and won by three strokes. Brink, however, had his best state showing with a 149 (73-76) and was crowned the individual champ, rallying from a two-shot deficit in the final three holes to win by two.
“It was totally a bittersweet moment,” Brink said. “Winning as a team, you’re sharing it with everybody. You’re sharing it not just with them, but their families and the community. That’s almost more special, to be honest, because everyone is rejoicing in that. But golf’s an individual game, right? You just add everybody’s score together. I was really proud to win it as an individual.”
‘A great tradition’
With another state championship in 1997, Bemidji became the first program to win the title seven times. Their 25 state appearances, most recently in 2001, are four more than the next closest program.
“There’s been a great tradition,” Brink said. “… It’s a huge source of pride to know that our era of Bemidji golf was probably the most dominant era the state of Minnesota has ever seen.”
Brink went on to play golf and hockey at the University of Minnesota, as well as playing for the U.S. at the 1994 World Junior Hockey Championships. His son, Bobby Brink, plays for the University of Denver and was a second-round draft pick of the Philadelphia Flyers in 2019.
In the 28 years since his high school graduation, nobody has ever matched Brink’s accomplishments on the links. And it’s not too far fetched to think they may never be touched.
“You just want to make a little bit of a mark and uphold a standard that people before you have had,” Brink said. “For us to be able to uphold that standard and then add to it and exceed it, it really did mean a lot.”
LUMBERJACK FLASHBACK SERIES
Boys track and field: The 'glory decade' of BHS boys track
Girls track and field: The girl who vaulted into unrivaled ranks
Boys golf: The boys golfer with championship DNA
Girls golf: TBA