By Chris Dobrowolski
Special for Second Half
FRANKFORT — On the golf course, Frankfort senior Will Newbold appears to be calm, cool and collected.
It’s an outward impression that mirrors the way Newbold is feeling on the inside too.
Newbold’s easy-going demeanor has served him quite well on the links as he’s helped lead the Panthers to their fifth straight Lower Peninsula Division 4 Golf Finals appearance and sixth in the past eight years.
In a sport that can seem to break even the most stoic of players at times, Newbold doesn’t let his emotions get the best of him, taking the good with the bad in the same even-keeled fashion.
“I just feel like being able to keep your head and stay composed is a really good attribute to have,” said Newbold. “If I do mess up, I feel like I can shrug it off and get back on track. Maybe make a couple birdies and get back on track to shooting a good score.”
Good scores have been the norm for Newbold, who enters the Finals at Grand Valley State’s Meadows course as the medalist in the Northwest Conference — at 3-under in league play he was the only player under par for the year — and at the Regional he shot a 74 to win by one stroke. In fact, only two times this season has someone topped Newbold on the leaderboard.
The four-year letterwinner generally has been the Panthers’ top performer the past two years and was Frankfort’s low man in its last two trips to the Finals. He fired a 162 as a sophomore as Frankfort finished 12th. His score of 150 last year put him in a tie for eighth overall and the Panthers rose to ninth in the team standings.
The aspirations this season are for a top-five team finish, which would mark the best the Panthers’ boys golf program has ever placed.
“I always look at the state tournament as that’s the real season,” said Frankfort coach Tom Thorr. “That’s when you want to be playing your best. Our goal has always been to be in the top 10 in the state. This year you can’t help but look at the other scores in Division 4. I’m certainly hoping we have a good showing. I think it would be great if my team could finish in the top five.”
The Panthers have some good experience with seniors Jack Reznich and Riley Thorr, along with junior Luke Hammon. Sophomore Daniel Newbold, Will’s younger brother, rounds out Frankfort’s top five, but what the younger Newbold lacks in experience he makes up for with ability. He and Hammon both turned in top-10 performances at the Regional with a pair of rounds at 82.
With Will Newbold at the top of that lineup, the Panthers have a squad capable of meeting their high expectations.
“I’ve always told my kids they don’t have to shoot 70,” said Thorr. “If we can have four guys shoot 80 or 82, we’re going to make a lot of noise. But having somebody who can go out and shoot a 70-72 (like Will), it kind of gives you that latitude where you can afford a 90 or a 94 and still be really solid.”
Thorr believes his top player could be in the hunt for medalist honors as well when all is said and done.
“He’s got a chance,” Thorr said. “He’s going to have to play well. There are some good players out there, no doubt. When we get down there, we’ll see them all. He’ll have to rely on that mental game.”
It’s that mental game that has been Will Newbold’s strength and allows him to perform at such a high and consistent level, says his coach.
“Everybody’s going to have a bad shot or a bad hole, or a stretch of holes,” said Tom Thorr. “You have to have the right mentality to get through that. Like Will, if he has a bad shot or a bad hole he’s just got this uncanny ability to just kind of brush it off. ‘Oh well, I’ll get it back.’ It may not be the next hole, but he’s pretty focused. He doesn’t let a whole lot of things rattle him. His mental game is pretty solid. He hits the ball straight. He’s not super long, but he’s real consistent.”
As a collection, the Panthers are a product of their environment. Each of Frankfort’s top five players caddies at nearby Crystal Downs Country Club — a course that is consistently ranked among the best nationally and worldwide by pundits — and they frequently take advantage of the chance to play, taking on the challenging course as they’ve built up their games.
“I try to go out there every night in the summer,” said Will Newbold. “It’s fast, unforgiving. You’ve got to hit spots, or you’re going to be in trouble. The greens are really tough and really hilly. I would say it’s one of the harder (courses) in the state.”
Those daily tests, along with instruction from the likes of local PGA pros Scott Wilson and Ed Laprade, have helped a player like Newbold make huge strides in a relatively short time. Newbold started playing the game only four years ago, but now finds himself in the discussion of the best players in Division 4, with a chance to prove it on the course in his final match of his high school career.
“I’ve spent a lot of time in the summers just grinding at the range and playing golf every day,” he said. “I progressed pretty quickly. I worked so hard in the summer and in the offseason to get better. It’s good to see my hard work being rewarded.”
Chris Dobrowolski has covered northern Lower Peninsula sports since 1999 at the Ogemaw County Herald, Alpena News, Traverse City Record-Eagle and currently as sports editor at the Antrim Kalkaska Review since 2016. He can be reached at email@example.com with story ideas for Manistee, Wexford, Missaukee, Roscommon, Ogemaw, Iosco, Alcona, Oscoda, Crawford, Kalkaska, Grand Traverse, Benzie, Leelanau, Antrim, Otsego, Montmorency, Alpena, Presque Isle, Cheboygan, Charlevoix and Emmet counties.
PHOTO: Frankfort's Will Newbold, second from right, will lead a talented and experienced lineup to the Lower Peninsula Division 4 Final this weekend. (Photo courtesy of the Frankfort golf program.)
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)