Emeralds' Nagy a Hidden Gem No Longer

May 10, 2012

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

An opposing golf coach joked this spring that he'll always be able to say he beat Manistique's Michael Nagy – when Nagy was 12.

Other opposing coaches consider it a privilege to grant their players the opportunity to walk a match with the reigning Upper Peninsula champion.

What does Nagy mean to U.P. golf? His signing with the University of Tennessee last fall might be considered on par with a basketball player going to a power league like the Atlantic Coast Conference, or a football player heading to the Big 12.

All happen – but rarely, especially to U.P. athletes playing warm-weather sports. Plus, when Nagy signed in November, he guaranteed he’ll become only the second Division I athlete in any sport from Manistique High since Ron Rubick finished his football career at Michigan State in 1963.

“I thought it was a remarkable stat,” Nagy said. “It makes me want to do good and keep getting better.”

Nagy received a Second Half High 5 this week as he puts the finishing touches on a career that has included Upper Peninsula individual championships in 2009 and 2011 and a runner-up finish in 2010 when he fell in a two-hole tie-breaker.

Though the story of a star golfer emerging from the cold-weather north gets told on occasion, a feat like Nagy’s is rather uncommon.

Although high school season starts in mid-March, in Manistique it takes until the start of May for the weather to come around completely.

And while some bigger towns have indoor domes or other facilities where players can hit balls during the winter, Nagy’s indoor practice facility is a net in his garage, plus another smaller net he uses for chipping.

But this fall, he'll begin his college career with the Volunteers, who play in the Southeastern Conference and like many schools in the south fill most of the roster with players from states in warmer climates that allow for more play throughout the year.

“Mike is very hard-working, very humble. That would be the word for it,” Emeralds coach Deb Taylor said. “He has just blown everybody away when he plays. But he’s not the one to go bragging about it.”

Each Peninsula has its own MHSAA Finals for golf, meaning Nagy gets to see the best from the rest of the state only during summer events – the closest of which is a three-hour drive from home, with most more than six. He made trips about twice a month last summer, spending most of July playing in Wisconsin, and still had the kind of success that ranked him among the best in this state for his age group.

Golf isn’t the most popular sport among his Manistique friends. Nagy also played basketball – he set a school record this season with six 3-pointers in a game – but most of his course time spent with friends is low-key.

With golf teammates, he won’t give suggestions unless asked. But players on his and opposing teams no doubt benefit from his presence.

“A lot of coaches now say they are putting so and so with Mike today, (or) they want someone to golf with Mike,” Taylor said. “It makes them better players too. They want that competition.”

Although Nagy also has a job at his home course, Indian Lake in Manistique, he didn’t grow up in a golfing family by the traditional definition. His older brother was friends with Steve Larson, a Manistique grad who went on to become the 2006 Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Player of the Year at Grand Valley State. At 11 or 12, following his brother and Larson, Nagy started giving the game a try.

“I just kinda got hooked on it,” he said.

A year later, Nagy began taking lessons from former Rock Mid-Peninsula standout Casey VanDamme – who also played collegiately, rose up the teaching ladder and became Tennessee’s assistant coach in 2009.

VanDamme told Volunteers’ head coach Jim Kelson about Nagy, and Kelson came to watch him play – and was sold.

Par at Indian Lakes is 36, and Nagy’s average the last four seasons usually has hovered around that mark. He’s at 35 for nine holes currently, and set a school record as a sophomore with a 31. Although he wasn’t sure if it is an 18-hole school record, Nagy shot a 66 in last year’s Mid-Peninsula Athletic Conference championship tournament at Gwinn’s Red Fox Run. He shot a 60 at last summer's Indian Lake's club championship to set that course's record.

He shot a 74 to win Wednesday’s Negaunee Kiwanis Invitational by five shots – the fourth time he’s won that tournament. He’ll go for his third MHSAA championship the first weekend in June – and then leave a legacy that could go unmatched for years to come. Click to read more about Nagy's dream playing partners and future plans.

PHOTO: Manistique's Michael Nagy has signed with the University of Tennessee and is set to become his high school's first Division I college athlete since 1961. (Photo courtesy of the Manistique Pioneer Tribune.)

Hockey Players Transferring Winter Puck Skills to Spring Golf Swings

By Tom Lang
Special for MHSAA.com

May 26, 2023

When the Michigan seasons shift from winter to spring, some high school golf teams are a little more eager than others for the hockey season to officially end.

This is especially true for the school golf programs in Brighton, Hartland and Muskegon Mona Shores – examples of boys teams that love having hockey players transition from the indoor frozen ice to play golf outdoors on the lush green grass.

“I would take a golf team full of hockey players any day,” said Hartland golf coach Nathan Oake. “I love them.”

We can tell, because his program is full of them.

Hartland and Brighton each have eight hockey players on their 16-golfer varsity and JV rosters.

Mona Shores has three hockey players this year, but usually has more. In 2023 it’s Oliver MacDonald (all-state honorable mention in hockey), Nathan McNarland and Nicholas Taylor, who was voted Division 1 all-state golf last spring, then leading his team to fifth place at the MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 1 Final.

Hartland’s Ian Kastamo (16) takes a faceoff against Brighton this winter. Brighton golfer Winston Lerch was also Division 1 all-state last year in golf and an assistant captain on the hockey team this winter that finished Division 1 runner-up to Detroit Catholic Central. Here in 2023, he shot a 65 to open the season at Oakland University for medalist and has committed to Grand Valley State for golf with his 72-stroke average.

Joining Lerch in the Bulldogs boys golf program are hockey players like Levi Pennala, winner of hockey’s Wall Award sponsored by State Champs as the top high school goalie. Pennala – who recently shot 72 at the Kensington Lakes Activities Association championship tournament, his career low for high school golf – finished in the top 30 last year at the LPD1 Final. Then early this spring when he was away at a high-level junior hockey tournament, freshman hockey player Adam Forcier stepped in and shot a school record 18-hole round for a freshman at 73. Jacob Daavetilla also works into the starting lineup at times.

Forcier tied the record of Davis Codd – who, as a pro hockey player on leave from the Saginaw Spirit OHL hockey team when COVID-19 shut down the league, won the LPD1 Final in 2021 for Brighton.

Brighton golf coach Jimmy Dewling said Codd was one of the earliest to prove to others you can play both hockey and golf and excel. In fact, that June in 2021, Codd went to an NHL scouting camp in Pennsylvania before the Golf Finals, drove overnight back to Forest Akers to play the two championship rounds, won the title, then immediately returned to Pennsylvania to resume the hockey camp.

“On our team, we believe, and TBone (Codd) was a perfect example of it, if there’s any time you have the opportunity to be competitive, it is going to make you a more well-rounded competitor and therefore better at your particular sport,” Dewling said.

“We like hockey players. In the winter, they have to think to where the puck is going, be smart enough to react, and understand how that emotion is going to carry over from one play to the next. When it’s your shift you have to forget about the last shift, or take something from the last shift and put it into the next shift, to have consistent play.

“It’s the same on the golf course,” Dewling continued. “It’s one hole to the next, one shot at a time, being tough, and that’s only going to come from competition reps. We love the athletic ability more so than anything; the toughness and competitiveness all year.”

In addition to Lerch and Pennala starting on varsity golf, they are joined by traditional golfers Matt Doyle, Riley Morton and Andrew Daily, who is committed to Wayne State and finished LPD1 runner-up last spring.

Mona Shores’ Nicholas Taylor fires an iron shot. Going into the 2023 golf postseason, Brighton is ranked No. 2 in Division 1. The Bulldogs have won the Next Tee Invite at Oakland Hills, the North Star Invite at Plum Hollow and the KLAA Conference Championship – earning Brighton’s first conference title since 2007. The Bulldogs also were runners-up at The Meadows Invite at Grand Valley State University. The team is averaging 297 for 18 holes.

Oake admitted this is a rebuilding year for Hartland’s golf program. The varsity lineup has only two returning players with varsity golf experience – Keller King and Brady Betteley.

“So, we opted to keep a group of tough competitors with a solid combination of speed and strength – and who are not concerned about the cold conditions that we play in,” Oake quipped.

Five others rotate into the Eagles’ golf starting lineup with King and Betteley: Isaac Frantti is an all-state hockey defensemen playing his first season of golf but shot a career-low 79 at American Dunes recently. He just signed a United State Premier Hockey League tender to play in Connecticut next year. Ian Kastamo scored the winning goal in Hartland’s Division 2 hockey championship victory in 2022, and LJ Sabala is a varsity hockey player as well.

Then there are two non-hockey freshmen getting shots to start occasionally – Dallas Korponic, who finished third at his weight at the Individual Wrestling Finals, and Michael Maurin. Five more sophomores and juniors are hockey players on the JV golf team.

We hope to be competitive with (Brighton) again soon, but they have the talent to make a big splash this year,” Oake said. “I also play golf at the same club as many Brighton players, so I see them quite a bit and we are friendly. When the Brighton team walked by our team on a recent Monday and all said hello to me and our guys, one of my players looked at me and said that this was the biggest difference between hockey and golf. In hockey, the small talk would be (traded) for the ice, and it would not be very nice out there.

“Either way, I believe both sports are filled with fierce competitors and respect, but when the game is over a handshake and a golf hat tip are offered to the victor.”

This story was updated and reposted with permission of MIGolfJournal.com.

PHOTOS (Top) Brighton takes a team photo after finishing third at last season’s LPD1 Final, and all five golfers are back this season including hockey players Levi Pennala (second from left) and Winston Lerch (second from right.) (Middle) Hartland’s Ian Kastamo (16) takes a faceoff against Brighton this winter. (Below) Mona Shores’ Nicholas Taylor fires an iron shot. (Photos courtesy of High School Sports Scene, Sapshots Photography and Mona Shores’ athletic department, respectively.)