Extra Effort Pays for Champion Houghton

By John Vrancic
Special for MHSAA.com

May 28, 2014

MARQUETTE — The top four Houghton High School boys golfers went to such places as Washington, D.C., South Carolina and Florida during Spring Break to sharpen their skills. 

As the saying goes, practice makes perfect.

They were rewarded for their efforts Wednesday as the Gremlins captured the MHSAA Upper Peninsula Division 1 title with 310 strokes at the Marquette Golf & Country Club’s Heritage course. 

Runner-up Escanaba shot 318, followed by defending champ Marquette at 321.

Houghton sophomore Wyatt Liston earned medalist honors by firing a 73. He was followed by Marquette junior Mike McGee, who shot a personal-best 75, and Escanaba sophomore Nick Aird at 76. 

“I think everything went pretty well,” said Liston, who birdied three holes on a sunny day and seasonably cool day near the shore of Lake Superior. “Overall, I played pretty solid. Hitting the fairway off the tee was the key, although I wasn’t getting a lot of distance on my shots.

“I thought my approach shots and putting went pretty well. The greens had a lot of movement, and today was all about being able to read them. What today’s tournament means is I have a lot of room for improvement. I would like to get a little better at striking the ball.” 

Houghton’s Gunnar Stein and Ben Strong and Escanaba’s Dane Casperson, who birdied four consecutive holes, shared fourth place at 78.

The Gremlins recorded seven birdies during the tournament. 

“Anytime you can get three golfers to shoot in the 70s, it helps,” said Houghton coach Jack Humpula. “Our consistency across the board also helped. Another thing that helps is the guys don’t let a bad shot ruin the entire hole. We’ve been pretty consistent all season and that’s how we won our (West-PAC) conference.”

Fourth-year coach Brian Robinette said he was very pleased with Escanaba’s performance. 

“I feel real good about how we did,” he added. “You’re always looking for results at the end of the year, and 318 is the lowest score we shot in a tournament all year. We just wanted to perform in a way (in) which another team had to shoot a score better than us. A 310 is definitely a championship performance on this course.

“I’ve always believed that success breeds success, and I think that holds true in (Houghton’s) program. I also think our program is heading in that direction. We didn’t lose any momentum in terms of where our program seems to be going.” 

Dylan Gauthier added a 79 for the Eskymos, who were last crowned U.P. champions in 2011.

“When you get three kids shooting in the 70s under the pressure of the U.P. Finals, I think it bodes well for your program,” Robinette said. “Dane (Casperson) is a four-year veteran who understands what this is all about. He was part of a U.P. championship team as a freshman and had to take a leadership role at a very young age. Just watching Dane carry himself around the course this year just kind of gives you that sense of pride. We feel our program is on the rise.”

Marquette also had an additional top-10 finisher in Brett Specker, who shared seventh with Gauthier and Gladstone’s Max Stasser at 79. 

“We’re happy for Mike (McGee),” said Marquette coach Ben Smith. “He bogeyed the last hole and was kind of bummed about that, but he still shot a great round.

“I thought the boys shot an OK score. A lot of our kids left a stroke or two out there. Scott (Frazier) and Brett (Specker) led us all year, and Mike was our No. 3 golfer. It’s awesome when you can get these kinds of contributions throughout your lineup as we did from Mike today.” 

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PHOTOS: (Top) Houghton's Wyatt Liston drives from the sixth tee box during the MHSAA Division 1 U.P. Finals on Wednesday at Marquette Country Club. (Middle) Escanaba's Dane Casperson putts on the fifth green. (Photos by Adelle Whitefoot.)

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

By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com 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)