Maintaining the greens: Former Packer finds a career in sports

Published 9:49 am Monday, July 1, 2024

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AJ Mueller didn’t seek out a career in golf, but it certainly found him.

This past January, Mueller took a job as an assistant superintendent at Minnesota Valley Country Club in Bloomington which means he plays a big role in working with crew, running irrigation and working on day to day projects.

It’s an unexpected position for Mueller, a 2019 Austin High School grad, who played baseball, football and hockey for the Packers.

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When he was at AHS, Mueller worked a summer job at Austin Country Club inspired him to take a small interest in golf. Soon, advice from Kevin Malloy, who has since left ACC for a golf course in Colorado, had Mueller thinking about working as a director of a grounds crew. 

That advice has now turned into fruition. 

“I never thought that I’d take quite the 180 degree turn that I have, but I’m happy,” Mueller said. “When I first got into this, I was not into golf, but I did work at a golf course where I could play every day.”

After graduating from AHS, Mueller went to UW-La Crosse with the intentions of going to business school and playing baseball, but COVID-19 erased his freshman season and an injury kept him out of the diamond for good. His last baseball game was with the Austin Post 91 Legion team in the summer of 2019.

While at UW-La Crosse, Mueller took online classes at Penn State University to earn his certificate in turf grass management. Early on, Mueller dreamt of being a groundskeeper at Target Field for the Minnesota Twins, but now he has settled in on golf.

The pivotal moment for Mueller came in the form of an internship when he helped rebuild The Lido Country Club in the summer of 2022. The Lido was originally built in 1917; it is 850 acres and located near Sand Valley, which is in central Wisconsin.

“That summer was the crowning achievement in getting me to go towards golf,” Mueller said. “The project was extremely hyped. It was the golf version of the lost city of Atlantis. We took an old course that was torn down during World War II and rebuilt it. It was a once in a lifetime project.”

Mueller still looks back fondly on his time as an Austin Packer. He was a member of the 2019 Austin baseball team that took third place in the Class AAA state tournament and he and his former teammates still talk about those times.

“Every time I drive by the University of Minnesota, I have flashbacks,” Mueller said. “I still remember Teyghan Hovland’s big double that helped us upset Hill Murray. The last time I saw Siebert Field, I had chills. That team was special.”

Mueller has also managed to stay near hockey as he uses his winters away from golf to ref. He began officiating when he was 12 years old and this last winter he put in over 120 games, varying from youth, to high school to men’s league.

“I’ve realized how predictable the game can be. When you see the same teams you learn what players will do before they even do it and you know what coaches are going to complain about,” Mueller said. “I’ve gained thick skin out there and I’ve gotten a great feel for the temperature of the game. There is no hesitation when I make calls anymore.”

This summer, Mueller will get to be part of a host site for a state amateur golf tournament. He’s hoping it will be the first of many in his newfound passion for golf course management.

“The ultimate goal is to be a golf course superintendent,” Mueller said. “I’ve been exposed to working PGA tourneys and I kind of have the itch to go somewhere that hosts big tournaments. I’d like to live in a small to big town that has a high end facility.”