BATTLE CREEK — Brockton English had dreamed for more than a year about winning the individual Lower Peninsula Division 2 golf championship, but he was far from confident going into this weekend’s tournament at Bedford Valley Golf Club.
“I played in a big invitational in Indiana earlier in the week, and I played really bad. Just really bad,” said the Pontiac Notre Dame Prep senior. “I knew the (Bedford Valley) course was going to be easier than what I played in Indiana, but, still, I was a little nervous.”
A fast start Friday, with five birdies in the first 10 holes, cured the nerves, and he carded identical rounds of five-under 67 to win the individual title by five strokes over Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice’s Lorenzo Pinili, who shot 68 on Saturday to finish at 139.
Pinili’s Brother Rice team won the team title, however, recording identical rounds of 290 to finish 18 strokes ahead of Flint Powers Catholic.
Warriors coaches Leon Braisted and David Sass, who co-coached the Bloomfield Hills Marian girls to the Division 3 title in the fall, became the first coaches to win Finals with boys and girls golf teams in the same school year.
“It’s a very good feeling,” Braisted said. “We’re tickled pink, and we’re going to let it soak in. It’s been a very productive school year.”
Brother Rice got off to a rough start on Saturday as the pressure of being the leader at the halfway point took its toll early.
“Part of that was nerves,” said senior Colin O’Rourke, who finished with a 74-70—144 score. “Around hole 4 or 5 our five guy settled in, and we started playing.”
The Warriors led by eight strokes over Flint Powers going into Saturday and added 10 strokes to that lead.
“That was pretty special,” O’Rourke said. “We caught a groove and never looked back.”
Pinili shot a 68 on Saturday after teammate Matt Baer had done so the day before.
“I was patient the whole day,” Pinili said. “I was giving myself chances by sticking it to 10 feet or less (from the cup). A couple (putts) didn’t fall, but I stayed patient and most of them did. I got lucky on some shots and I got some breaks and put a good round together.”
While Pinili was staying patient, English had some nervous moments down the stretch.
“On 16 I was trying to go for the green in two to get another birdie and two-putt, but I pulled my 2-iron way left of the green, next to a tree, and I had to take an unplayable lie,” he said. “That really put me on edge. I took a bogey there, and I knew Lorenzo was really close.
“On 17, I was really nervous because I had to sink a 4-footer to save par," he added, "and then I was able to roll in a birdie on 18, and that’s when I knew I had my momentum back.”
That last putt, English said, was bliss.
“It’s a weird feeling. You can’t think about it too much because you don’t want to make a mistake,” he said. “But the last putt is a great feeling. There’s no pressure any more. You make it, or you two-putt. It doesn’t matter.”
For O’Rourke, his last putt was bittersweet.
“It was a sad and happy moment at the same time,” he said. “It was my last high school tournament, but I’m fortunate to take (golf) to the next level and play in college.”
While O’Rourke will play at the University of Dayton next year, the Warriors will have both Pinili and Baer, who was a junior this year, back in 2022.
But this year’s Brother Rice team was talented, deep — and unselfish.
“We have nine guys who averaged 78 or better for 18 holes,” Braisted said. “We were blessed with talent, and we were in a lot of pressure situations. We’re in a strong league, and that experience rubbed off for us today.”
English, who will play golf on scholarship at Drexel University, credited his personal swing coach for keeping him ready through the winter, and his coaches at Pontiac Notre Dame Prep for preparing him mentally during the season.
“Mike Erskine, Kevin Ogg and John Briceland were always pushing me,” he said. “Every practice, they pushed me, giving me the hardest shots to hit against my teammates, and we had some putting contests to put some pressure on me. They didn’t let me stay satisfied. They kept me hungry for more.”
PHOTOS: (Top) Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice celebrates its Division 2 team championship Saturday at Bedford Valley. (Middle) Flint Powers Catholic’s Robert Burns chips during his second round. (Click for more from High School Sports Scene.)
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)