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.)

Saline's Williams-Hoak Named National Coach of the Year by LPGA Professionals

By Geoff Kimmerly senior editor

September 20, 2022

The LPGA Professionals have named Saline High School golf coach Debbie Williams-Hoak as its national Coach of the Year.

Williams-Hoak was among national award winners who were selected by the LPGA Professionals’ executive committee from a pool of Section Award winners, which were voted on by officers of those regional sections.

More on the award from LPGA Professionals:

The LPGA Professionals Coach of the Year Award was established in 1980 and is awarded annually to an LPGA Professionals member who is actively engaged in teaching and/or coaching golf at the collegiate or high school level.

LPGA Professionals Class A member Debbie Williams-Hoak knows what it takes to compete at the highest levels. She is a former LPGA Tour Player and track & field athlete who represented U.S. Track & Field in Russia and West Germany. She is a four-time Big Ten Champion, a member of the Ohio Track & Field Hall of Fame, University of Michigan Women’s Track Hall of Fame member and a member of the Michigan Golf Hall of Fame as a player, coach and teaching professional. This year, she is being inducted into the University of Michigan Athletic Hall of Honor.

Having been a multi-sport athlete accustomed to competing at the highest level, Williams-Hoak brings something unique to her coaching style. She has successfully coached boys and girls golf for the past 16 years at Saline High School in Saline, Michigan, and currently is serving as the first female president of the Michigan Interscholastic Golf Coaches Association. Williams-Hoak feels proud that every girl on her team shot career lows while maintaining 100-percent academic eligibility this season, while her boys team placed second in the conference championship and qualified for its second-straight state Finals appearance.

She is dedicated to instilling a lifelong love of the game while empowering students through golf and hopes her example will pave the way for other women coaches to lead as well.

Williams-Hoak received the 2017 Sandy LaBauve Spirit Award, the most coveted honor bestowed by LPGA*USGA Girls Golf, for her continued dedication and passion for empowering girls through golf.  She was honored with the Midwest Youth Leader of the Year and Goldie Bateson Award two times, in addition to numerous recognitions as Coach of the Year from Saline High School.

She is deeply involved with the LPGA Professionals organization, which she currently serves as the LPGA Midwest Secretary since 2021. She has been site director for LPGA*USGA Girls Golf of Greater Washtenaw Country since 2015 and acted as an advisor for the Site Director Certification program in 2021. From 2018-2021, she worked as an expert committee member for LPGA*USGA Girls Golf.  She also coached at the LPGA Leadership Academies in Michigan over the last two years.

"I am extremely humbled by this award, as there are so many outstanding LPGA coaches in our association. What an honor to represent the LPGA, the state of Michigan and the game of golf as a coach,” said Williams-Hoak. “It is a privilege to work with so many wonderful players who make coaching so rewarding. I am also fortunate to have such great fellow coaches in Michigan and throughout the LPGA. Thank you so much for this very special recognition."

PHOTO: Saline golf coach Debbie Williams-Hoak, far left, stands for the trophy shot with her girls team after the Hornets won the 2016 Lower Peninsula Division 1 championship. (MHSAA file photo)