NORWAY — About a month ago, there was some doubt whether Hancock High School would have a golf season this year.
The Copper Country was getting hit with heavy snowfall in April and early May, and area athletic directors were forced to consider cancelling the season.
Mother Nature, however, finally gave the Keweenaw Peninsula a break and the Portage Lake Golf Course in Houghton opened on May 14.
“We literally got one practice in on our home course (Portage Lake) and it was out the door,” Hancock coach Joe Gervais said. “We started our season on May 15.”
The Bulldogs then made up for lost time and were rewarded Wednesday with their first victory this season, which just happened to be the MHSAA Upper Peninsula Division 2 championship.
Hancock edged Norway 324-325 for its first U.P. title in four years. Third-place Iron Mountain had 330 strokes at Oak Crest Golf Course.
For Hancock, this marked a 22-stroke improvement from its opener, also at Oak Crest.
“With the season being compressed, we wanted to get a little better with each meet,” Gervais said. “Norway has a nice golf team. But we knew if we played the way we’re capable, we could give them a run for their money.
“One of the keys is our third through fifth golfers brought their scores down 4-5 strokes. This group is very dedicated. We’d get back from a meet and the kids would go to our home course and shoot another round. We’re very pleasantly surprised by today’s events, especially considering how well Norway had been playing.”
L’Anse junior Tristen Leaf was medalist with a 74, including a 36 on the back nine.
“I’m very happy with my putting today, and my drives were solid,” said Leaf, who recorded three eagles and five bogeys. “I’ve been catching up with my game. Last week, I shot an 84 in the West-Pac Conference meet at Portage where I didn’t hit the ball well at all. I worked on my drives a lot this year, and it paid off.”
Hancock junior Kyle Hauswirth, Norway sophomore Austin Hansen and West Iron County senior Austin Waara shared runner-up honors at 77.
“I just tried to get on the course as much as possible and work on my short game,” Hauswirth said. “The weather was better, too. We had a lot of meets called off this year, which was kind of disappointing because we could see the other teams were having a season. We usually have five conference meets for awards. This year we had three in our conference and only one for awards. It was a relief to finally get some meets in. This is definitely a nice finish, especially considering this is our first win this season.”
Hansen hit an eagle on the ninth hole, sinking a 150-foot putt to take a one-stroke lead at the midway point. He finished at 37 on the front nine, then faded to 40 on the back.
“I was really fired up when I got that eagle,” Hansen said. “Then, I didn’t do things too well on the back nine. I popped up my head too soon rather than keeping it down during my shots, which is one of the classic mental errors. I finally started keeping my head down on the last three holes and parred each one.
“We had a real good team this year. We just wanted to win this for our seniors (Mike Zygiel and Bo Brew) so bad. Our fourth and fifth guys did everything they could. It hurts a little right to come up a stroke short.”
PHOTOS: (Top) Ishpeming's Matt Kilberg, Manistique's Alex Anderson and Ishpeming Westwood's Jake Kivinsky got their swings in during Wednesday's Upper Peninsula Division 2 Final. (Middle) L'Anse's Tristen Leaf shot a 74 to finish first individually. (Photos by Theresa Proudfit.)
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)