By Dennis Grall
Special for Second Half
IRON MOUNTAIN – The Houghton Gremlins were hoping to defend their MHSAA title while also hitting around 310 Thursday at the Upper Peninsula Division 1 boys golf championship tournament.
They easily achieved their first goal, winning their second straight crown with a 325 that put them 15 strokes ahead of perennial contender Marquette. The next four teams also were bunched, with Escanaba at 342, Gladstone 343, Negaunee 345 and Kingsford 350.
The Gremlins posted a school-best 297 two weeks ago at Houghton Portage Lake Golf Club, but coach Corey Markham warned them that approaching that mark would be difficult at challenging Pine Grove Country Club, which was founded in 1902 and ranks among the top five courses in the Upper Peninsula.
"This is a challenging course. It is really difficult," Markham said of the hilly, tree-lined par 72 layout that stretched to 6,297 yards from the blue tees.
He was more than happy with how his squad attacked Pine Grove, with teammates Gunnar Stein and Brendan Longhini finishing 1-2 with 76 and 79 strokes, respectively. Only seven other players shot fewer than 85, including Houghton's Wyatt Liston, who had 83.
That kind of depth put the Gremlins in good position to turn back any challengers. "They showed up and were solid. They were very impressive," said Markham, whose girls team won its fifth straight U.P. crown.
Markham said the success of both teams is the result of a strong junior program at Portage Lake.
"The key is they get out and play and work on their games," he said. "They chip, putt, hit the (driving) range. They strive to get better.
"We have an awesome facility and Portage Lake caters to our youth. They get to play a lot of golf. That is a big part of our success."
It also helps that the talent level is close. "They strive to beat each other. They're teammates but they still want to beat each other," he said.
Longhini is the only senior on the squad, which bodes well for the future. "They are the biggest golf nuts," said Markham. "You won't find many people out there more often than our kids. They are buddies. They love to play. They compete against each other every day for bragging rights."
Stein, who posted a career-best 70 two weeks ago when the Gremlins carded that 297, is a junior. The Gremlins had a practice round Wednesday and learned some of the tricks to play Pine Grove.
"Hitting the fairways is key," said Stein, who hit nine or 10 to miss his goal of hitting all 14 par fours and fives. He missed Nos. 12 and 17 "by a lot, and I made bogey. Otherwise I missed them by five or 10 yards."
His tee shot on the 531-yard 12th landed on the left side rough and he had to punch out from between two trees that limited his backswing.
Handling the undulating greens was also a key. He didn't sink a birdie but also didn't have any three-putt greens, with solid approach shots a key. "If you one-putt every hole it makes par a lot harder," he said.
Stein said the team's depth is a critical component to the overall success. "We qualify for our spots. It is like a tourney in itself. Qualifying is a tourney atmosphere," he said. "We're used to playing under pressure. You have to embrace it."
PHOTOS: (Top) Houghton golfers stand with their MHSAA championship trophy. (Middle) Gunnar Stein of Houghton chips out of a tough lie between trees on the 12th hole at Iron Mountain Pine Grove Country Club on Thursday at the Upper Peninsula Division 1 Final. Stein was medalist with 76 to lead the Gremlins to their second straight title. (Below) Channing Modschiedler of Menominee blasts out of the bunker on the 12th hole Thursday. He shot 89.(Photos by Dennis Grall.)
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)