Brother Rice Turns Small Friday Advantage Into Saturday Finals Repeat

By Dean Holzwarth
Special for

June 11, 2022

GRAND RAPIDS – It was a smaller lead than the Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice boys golf team would’ve liked.

However, it was the perfect motivation to end the season the same way as last year.

The Warriors won their second-straight Lower Peninsula Division 2 Final on Saturday at The Meadows at Grand Valley State.

Brother Rice finished with a two-day total of 609, 17 strokes lower than runner-up Richland Gull Lake (626).

The Blue Devils rallied to edge third-place Flint Powers Catholic (628) and Grand Rapids Christian (630).

Gull Lake’s Bryce Wheeler won individual medalist honor with a stellar 138, which was four under par for the weekend.

Brother Rice led by only four strokes entering the final round, but pulled away throughout Saturday.

The Warriors were led by junior Lorenzo Pinili, who fired a 3-under-par 68 to finish the weekend at 144 and tie for second individually with Spring Lake senior Evan McDermott (71-73). 

“I think we had a tough day yesterday as a team,” Pinili said. “We thought we should’ve played a little better so we kind of took that and just put it as a goal to play better and not make the same mistake. I’m proud of how the team played today.”

Pinili was the only golfer in the field to shoot under par Saturday, and was 5-under-par through eight holes.

“I started off really hot,” he said. “And that just gave me so much room to work with. I got a little tired at one point, but then I got it back and finished strong.”

Brother Rice also received low scores from freshman Leandro Pinili (151), junior Marcus Lee (152) and seniors Kyle Gruley (162) and Matt Baer (163).

“It was close at the top, but the whole team just settled down and we talked about how tomorrow (Saturday) is a new day and we are going to play better,” Baer said. “We played like we knew how to play, and we really came together to get this win.”

The Warriors had won last year’s Final by 28 strokes, but associate head coach David Sass knew it was going to be more competitive this time.

“There were a lot of quality players in this field, and I think Division 2 golf is tough; it’s good golf,” Sass said. “It feels incredible to go back-to-back, and it’s hard to do.

“It was a battle the whole way, and it kind of turned into a test of who could get mentally focused the most. This course is extremely difficult, and big numbers are waiting for you on any hole. We bounced back after bad holes and played extremely well. I’m so proud of the way they performed.”

Wheeler, who didn’t place in the top 10 a year ago at the Final, shot a first-round 67 to grab a four-shot lead and then held off a group of competitors to win his first state title.

He closed with an even-par 71.

“Expectations were pretty high coming into this, and obviously I’ve had a pretty good year,” Wheeler said. “I think it’s all about preparation, and I had nearly two weeks of preparation for this.

Richland Gull Lake golf“I definitely felt like I had the potential to do this, and I just feel grateful to be able to do this. It’s awesome.”

Wheeler’s lead was shaved to one early in the round, but he made back-to-back birdies. He said he knew where he stood the entire way.

“I always look at the leaderboard, and I think it helps me because I feel like I do better under pressure,” Wheeler said. “I was nervous on the first hole because I never had to keep a lead before, but I just had to keep my head down and keep grinding.”

Wheeler carded four birdies and four bogies Saturday.

He finished his round getting up-and-down for par from the left rough on No. 16 and drained a six-foot putt.

“That was pretty cool, and I definitely wanted to make par on that last hole just to end the weekend,” Wheeler said. “It felt good for it to go in.”

Wheeler helped carry Gull Lake to its best Finals’ finish in school history, and his team accomplished the feat with an impressive final round.

The Blue Devils entered the day in sixth place, but moved up the leaderboard with stellar play and timely putts.

They fired a 312 on Saturday and also were led by freshman Hank Livingston, who had an 11 on the first hole but recovered brilliantly to shoot a 79 and 157 for the tournament.

Sophomore Ben Szabo (165) and freshman Chase Kosin (167) also contributed . 

“The kids never gave up, and they just kept going,” Gull Lake coach Thurman Walters said. “Everybody had rough patches, but we knew that if we play our best and make the best score you can then you give yourself a chance. I’m really proud of these guys, and it was definitely  a lot of fun.”

Walters also was thrilled with his No. 1 player’s effort.

“I’ve never seen anybody work like he does on his game,” he said. “You can’t have a kid with a better work ethic, and now we have to find him a school that will open their eyes and say, ‘Hey, this kid is pretty good.’”

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PHOTOS (Top) A Brother Rice golfer putts during Saturday’s second round at The Meadows. (Middle) Gull Lake’s Bryce Wheeler also putts Saturday on the way to winning the individual championship. (Click for more from High School Sports Scene.)

Mid Peninsula's Boys Sweep UPD3 Titles, Including 1st Team Championship

By Jason Juno
Special for

June 1, 2023

HYDE – The Rock Mid Peninsula boys won their first Upper Peninsula Finals boys golf championship Thursday, earning it in Division 3 at Highland Golf Club near Escanaba.

The Wolverines finished with a score of 324, 13 strokes fewer than runner-up Ontonagon.

“It’s the first time in school history for us, so we’re pretty excited about it,” Mid Pen coach Earlene VanDamme said. “The kids put a lot of work into this year.”

They did it with three golfers among the individual top five, led by medalist Bradly VanDamme, who shot a 77, and tournament runner-up Michael Englund, who carded a 78. Christian VanDamme was close behind with an 81, which was good for a fifth-place tie.

Big Bay de Noc’s Nick Desjarden watches a tee shot at Highland Golf Club. The three golfers have shot consistently around 80 all year. 

“Our top three boys were pretty equivalent. They were within one or two strokes of each other,” Coach VanDamme said. “I kept messing with the order. It didn’t matter where I put them, it always ended up that they were just all always kind of consistent.”

Bradly VanDamme said he has been shooting consistently in the 80s. He shot an 80 here during a practice round. 

“So a 77 today was huge,” he said. “I never expected to play as good as I did today.”

Fixing a key part of his game helped.

“I got off the tee well; usually that’s my struggle,” VanDamme said. “But every tee, I just thought, if I can keep this one in play and keep it in the fairway, then this course is pretty easy if you can keep it in the fairway.”

He said he was happiest about the team title.

“It’s great. All the guys are really excited. That was our goal coming into this – we didn’t care how we all individually placed, we just wanted to win as a team,” he said.

Watersmeet’s Edmond Williams putts during his round.That’s the way team leaders think.

“Bradly is a strong leader for the team,” Coach VanDamme said. “He continuously is just prepping the team, saying, ‘Come on guys, this is about the team score. We all need to do this.’”

His brother Christian VanDamme was just four strokes behind him.

“It helps that (Bradly’s) brother is on the team because he is very competitive with him,” said Coach VanDamme, who also is Bradly and Christian’s mother. “And they put a lot of extra practice in trying to better themselves, so they do practice a lot.”

Ontonagon was team runner-up for the second year in a row.

The Gladiators were led by Abi Pestka, who finished in third place and shot an 80, and Jerry Majurin, who tied Christian VanDamme with an 81.

“That’s the best the boys have done as a group,” Ontonagon coach Jim Jessup said. “Everybody was fairly close in terms of their scores.”

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PHOTOS (Top) Rock Mid Peninsula celebrates its first UP Finals championship in boys golf Thursday. (Middle) Big Bay de Noc’s Nick Desjarden watches a tee shot at Highland Golf Club. (Below) Watersmeet’s Edmond Williams putts during his round. (Photos by Jason Juno.)