In parts of five seasons with the Penguins, Dan Quinn was known to have the ear of superstar teammate Mario Lemieux. This week, he'll have the ear of one of golf's modern greats -- Ernie Els -- as he caddies for the South African at the 113th U.S. Open at the Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Pa.
Quinn, 48, has worked for Els on and off since 2010, having met him somewhat by chance -- their daughters were school friends in Florida. The dads became golfing buddies and since then Quinn has worked with Els in about 40 events, including a win at the PGA Grand Slam of Golf in 2010. He has also caddied for Jesper Parnevik, Dustin Johnson and John Daly.
"It's my biggest passion along with hockey," Quinn said of golf. "In hockey, guys watch and play golf like it's religion. I can go back to watching my first tournament in 1977 -- [Jack] Nicklaus versus [Tom] Watson."
A lifelong golf enthusiast, he has been playing since the age of 12. He worked as a caddy while growing up in Canada, but gave it up for years in pursuit of hockey.
In some respects, he has gone from Danny Noonan to Happy Gilmore.
Quinn is considered elite on the celebrity golf circuit and is the reigning champion of the American Century Championship at Lake Tahoe, a tournament he has won five times since 1992 and will defend his title again in July.
Lemieux won the same tournament in 1998, and former Pirates pitcher Rick Rhoden is an eight-time winner. Quinn's winnings at Reno alone are in the upper six figures.
After Els' practice round Monday in Ardmore, Quinn said he once wondered if he made the right decision pursuing hockey instead of golf, but not anymore.
"Twenty years ago I might have thought that way -- what if I had gone at golf the way I went at hockey? But, I've got to tell you, I have no illusions. I tried when I retired and wasn't good enough.
"The evolution of golf from the 1990s through the 2000s -- the golfers today are so physically fit, they're so big and strong ... they can hit it a mile. They're hungry and they play a game that is so incredible to watch inside the ropes."
"He loves the game and he's a huge competitor," Els said of Quinn at a news conference Monday. "I don't know if he loves my company all the time, but he's a good friend. I think we're having a good time.
"We haven't quite found our rhythm this year yet. But we've had some really good finishes ... we would like to put a major on there."
Of his former team, ousted from the NHL playoffs last week short of a Stanley Cup bid, Quinn said, "They ran into a hot goalie."
"I watched a lot of that [series]. I love to watch the Penguins ... but Boston's goalie got on a roll, and in the playoffs, they can beat anyone."
Quinn has said his transition from the violent ice of the NHL to the genteel greens of the PGA was a "no brainer."
"It's a great job and a great chance to do something I really enjoy, with a guy that I like being with." Quinn said. "It's not a hobby. Put it that way. It's work. But it's something I enjoy."
Dan Gigler: email@example.com, 412-263-1884 and Twitter @ gigs412.