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Girls’ Golf: Herzog retires after 29 years as Wingers’ head coach

Red Wing girls' golf coach Mark Herzog congratulates Sophia Yoemans after Yoemans earned medalist honors at the Class AA state girls' golf meet in 2018. Herzog announced his retirement Friday after leading the Wingers to six state team championships in 29 years, including in Class AA this season. Yoemans won her third-straight individual state title on Wednesday. Andrew Link / Rochester Post-Bulletin

By Jason Feldman

The list of accomplishments the Red Wing girls’ golf team has piled up over the past three decades is lengthy.

As in, four sheets of paper. Single-spaced. Tiny type.

For all of the conference, section and state team championships, the individual medalist honors, and the number of former Wingers who have played college golf, what Mark Herzog will cherish the most is something different.

"When you coach that long," Herzog said, "you don't remember all the different rounds or shots. You remember all the time you spend with the players and their families.

"It's been just unbelievable, so rewarding, coaching and building those relationships."

Herzog, who retired from teaching middle school science a few years ago, announced Friday that, after 29 years as the Wingers' head girls golf coach, he has decided to retire from coaching.

There couldn't be a better way for the sure-fire Hall of Fame coach to go out. His youngest daughter, Leah, won the Minnesota Miss Golf award on Sunday. Another Wingers senior, Sophia Yoemans, won her third consecutive state individual championship on Wednesday. And the Wingers rallied from a six-shot deficit after Round 1 to edge Minnewaksa/Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa by one shot for the team championship, the sixth state title for the Wingers under Herzog.

"This just seemed like a good time to retire," Mark Herzog said Friday, shortly after telling his team his decision. "I've thought about it for a couple of years and I made the decision for sure at the start of the season. I thought I'd like to be done when Leah finishes.

"But I'll miss it quite a bit."

Herzog took over the Wingers program in 1990 from Jim Pohl, who was also the athletic director at Red Wing.

"Jim coached the team for a year. He always reminds me that he had the team in a great spot for me," Herzog said with a laugh. "He said he's the Godfather of Red Wing girls’ golf."

The Wingers program soared under Herzog's direction, though it took nearly a decade to break through and become a perennial state power.

Red Wing made its first trip to state in 1998, when it finished fifth.

"I had coached eight or nine years at that point," he said. "We finally got through in 1998, we came from behind at Cannon Falls to win. What a thrill that was for the team to finally get through."

Owatonna edged the Wingers in 1999, but Red Wing returned again to state in 2000, placing fourth. It has qualified for state every year since 2000, with the exception of 2006, when it was the section runner-up.

"Once we got going, we were pretty fortunate that the good players kept coming," Herzog said.

But the players that came through the Wingers program weren't just good. They were great, some of the best the state has ever seen.

Yoemans, wrapped up one of the best careers ever by a high school golfer in the state on Wednesday. She won her third consecutive state title shooting a two-round total of 138. A year ago, she set a state-meet record with a 36-hole score of 129.

Red Wing has also had two players win the Miss Golf award -- Herzog's daughters Stephanie (2017) and Leah (2019). Mark's oldest daughter, Brittany, also played for him before graduating in 2008. His sons, Patrick and Jordan also played college golf -- Patrick for two years at Minnesota.

"The girls, once they started taking a liking to golf, would come to the course," Mark said. "When you're able to do something you love and you're able to take the people who are most important to you in the world with you...

"Then when they were old enough (to be on the high school team) ... I'd go to practice early and wait on the putting green, then to see your own kids come up ... it's incredible."

And Herzog's wife, Pam, has been the backbone of the family and the team, Mark said. Pam would annually rise at 4 or 4:30 a.m. to make a early-morning breakfast for the team on the last day of the section meet.

"She loves the girls like her own," Mark said. "She's been amazing."

It has taken more than one or two players to develop the kind of sustained dominance that Red Wing has. Mark Herzog said a major part of that success comes down to one word: Fun.

"What seemed to be most effective was, when a young girl would come out for golf, we'd ask her to bring one friend along," he said. "They'd go out and just have fun, but they were playing golf at the same time."

And now Herzog, who played high school golf at Alexandria and college golf at St. Cloud State, may be able to play some golf himself. Maybe.

"I don't even have a set of clubs," he said. "I'm going to get a set of high-tech clubs and start playing again.

"I tell my family that and they said 'we'll believe it when we see it.'"

Wingers under Herzog

Mark Herzog announced his retirement on Friday after 29 seasons as Red Wing's girls’ golf coach. A look at the Wingers' accomplishments over the past three decades:

  • 20 section championships and state-meet appearances
  • Six state championships (2001, '02, '03, '11, '15, '19)
  • 21 conference championships (16 Missota, 5 Big Nine)
  • 28 players move on to college golf (12 in Division I)
  • 44 state-meet qualifiers
  • Nine individual section champions
  • One state medalist (Sophia Yoemans, 2017, '18, '19)
  • Three individual state runners-up (Angie Ause, Mary Vajgrt, Leah Herzog)
  • Two Miss Golf award winners (Stephanie Herzog, 2017; Leah Herzog, '19)
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