Four-Time Finals Placer Piot Earns Ultimate Amateur Championship
By Tom Lang
Special for MHSAA.com
August 23, 2021
James Piot was a high school all-state Super Team member all four years he played golf at Detroit Catholic Central.
Piot – who has since moved on to play at Michigan State – was never an MHSAA Finals individual champion. But recently he achieved something much bigger, winning the ultimate individual crown for amateurs – the 121st U.S. Amateur Championship.
His championship run concluded Sunday, Aug. 15 at the iconic Oakmont Country Club with a 2 and 1 match play victory over Austin Greaser of Ohio and the University of North Carolina.
Piot led the Shamrocks to a Lower Peninsula Division 1 runner-up team finish in 2014 as a freshman, followed by three consecutive championships creating arguably the best era of high school golf for any one program in Michigan history.
According to his former assistant coach – Jimmy Dewling, now the boys golf head coach at Brighton – team titles suited Piot just fine.
“I think his team winning meant just as much to him than any individual title,” Dewling said. “Truly he’s one of those types of guys.”
Piot’s senior year in 2017, Catholic Central had three players on the all-state Super Team: Piot, Ben Smith (Georgia Tech) and Sean Niles (MHSAA individual champ), while teammates Dyllan Skinner and Sean Sooch were first team all-state.
Now on the national stage, Piot defeated Greaser of Ohio, 2-and-1, by sinking a 20-foot par putt on the 17th hole of the day’s second round in the scheduled 36-hole national final.
“It's the greatest feeling in the world,” Piot said to the national media on site. “I mean, as an amateur it's the best thing you can do. It was making that putt on 17 was just like, ‘Oh, my God. I might've done it.’”
By winning the elite amateur tournament, Piot is to receive presumably automatic exemptions into three professional majors next year: The Masters, the U.S. Open and the British Open. That alone is a career-defining bucket list for anyone in golf – and he’s still a college student.
Piot was playing in the U.S. Amateur for the second straight year. In 2020 at Bandon Dunes (in Oregon), he was second in stroke play to enter the match play portion the No. 2 seed. He won his first match but then was bumped out in the round of 32.
This year he finished his unfinished business by cruising through the match play, winning three of his six rounds with identical scores of 4-and-3. In the final, Piot was 1-up after the morning round of 18 holes. But after a lunch break and change of shirts from a dark color to a white one with a green Sparty golfer logo, there was a 4-hole swing where Piot found himself down three after 27 holes.
“I told myself on that tee box (on 10), I said, ‘I'm going to play this (last) nine 4-under.’ That's what I put in my head. Just self-belief.”
The tables turned hard at that point when Piot won four consecutive holes (10-13), and five of six, to go 2-up with three holes remaining, eventually grabbing the win 2-and-1.
Standing at that 10th tee, Piot was down three holes and TV commentator ‘Bones’ MacKay said it would be very difficult for Piot to get back into the match.
“I gave him the nickname when he was 9-years-old of ‘Spunkdog,’ because he’s got so much fight,” said Brian Cairns, his long-time teacher at Fox Hills Learning Center in Plymouth. “He’s in a corner by himself, he’ll come out every time by himself. He’s got spunk. You saw how he walked; you saw how mellow he was. You saw his shoulders go up on the back nine. He made the swings when he needed to make them.”
Dewling provided a similar but different angle on Piot.
“He took pride that he’s a public course guy and put that chip on his shoulder to beat people,” Dewling said about the high school years. “He’d watch other people practice and play and he believed he was doing things different and better than they were.
“I’ve been around high school golfers who practice because they feel like they have to. They think if they’re at the course it means they’re getting better than the next guy. But I think James would go to practice because he really wants to be there, and he really wants to know he’s preparing differently and he’s going to win more.”
Piot has always shown gratitude for the support he’s received over the years from high school buddies to his family and fans of both Catholic Central and MSU – who made up a huge section of the crowd that memorable Sunday afternoon at Oakmont.
“Mom and Dad have always been there, and I’ve been blessed to have the family and the support system I had before I even got to Michigan State,” he said. “I also had my high school coaches there (at Oakmont), Mike Anderson, Rick Williams (Detroit Catholic Central) and Jimmy Dewling, who are great mentors to me in life as well. It’s an extreme blessing to have some of the people in my life and seeing them (at Oakmont). Beyond golf, it was the coolest thing in the world.”
During his Catholic Central career, Piot was not one to dwell on “what could have been” after his MHSAA Finals individual title pursuits. He tied for sixth in Division 1 as a freshman, eighth as a sophomore, fifth as a junior and placed fourth alone as a senior in 2017.
“I think he understood the process better than anyone else – that one or two days of golf wasn’t going to define him. He’s got bigger aspirations than just one tournament," Dewling said. "He truly had an outlook and a perspective that’s so much greater than anything else. He’s so composed in high-pressure situations because he realizes his goals are still in front of him.
“James just plays with a chip on his shoulder, and I don’t think winning the U.S. Amateur is going to change that either. That’s the kind of competitive person he is.”
The people who know Piot well said he won’t change his life much in the short term at least, and will compete with the Spartans this fall and spring while finishing up his degree in finance. His Spartans have unfinished business as well, going after a Big Ten title.
“I just want to enjoy my last ride with the boys,” he said. “My school credit load might shift in the spring … but I’m looking forward to the college season and getting back out there with the Spartans. … We’re going to have a really good team and our goal this year is Big Ten champions, and hopefully we can do that.”
After receiving the U.S. Amateur trophy from the USGA officials, Piot gripped the golden hardware with a graceful respect, and turned it around a few times while looking it over. He was then asked if any past winners’ names stood out to him.
“I was just trying to see if it was real or not. I couldn't believe it. I mean, I honestly was like, did I just win the U.S. Am, in the back of my mind,” Piot answered. “I didn't really sit there and stare at all the names.”
Yet from now on and forever in history, James Piot’s name will be on that special trophy for others to search out and admire.
PHOTOS: (Top) Detroit Catholic Central grad James Piot, now playing at Michigan State, keeps an eye on his shot during a 2020 Golf Association of Michigan event. (Middle) Piot, second from right, stands with his Detroit Catholic Central team after the Shamrocks had clinched their third-straight Finals championship in 2017. (Top photo courtesy of Golf Association of Michigan; middle photo by HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)
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.
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.
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.)