By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
Major opportunities – and some intriguing challenges – are among main storylines for this weekend’s MHSAA Lower Peninsula Boys Golf Finals.
Two of last season’s team champions didn’t qualify for this weekend’s tournaments. A third 2018 champion – Grand Rapids NorthPointe Christian – is playing in a new division, guaranteeing at least two new titles winners with a possible third against entirely new competition.
Meanwhile, three of last season’s individual champions will play to win again – and because of that NorthPointe move, last year’s Division 4 winner Erik Fahlen will face reigning Division 3 champ Pierce Morrissey in their final high school event.
Below are a handful of possible team and individual favorites at each Final. First-round play tees off at 9 a.m. Friday, with the final round beginning at 9 a.m. Saturday. Click for a full list of Finals qualifiers and Regional results.
LP Division 1 at The Fortress in Frankenmuth
Reigning champion: Grosse Pointe South
2018 runner-up: Rockford
Top-ranked: 1. Clarkston, 2. Warren De La Salle, Rockford.
Grosse Pointe South broke Detroit Catholic Central’s three-year hold on the LPD1 championship last season, and both should be in the mix again. Rockford posted its highest Finals finish ever a year ago and will be aiming for its first title. De La Salle also is seeking its first championship, and top-ranked Clarkston its first since winning Class A in 1994. Clarkston, Rockford and No. 5 Lake Orion all broke 300 at their respective Regionals.
Clarkston: After finishing fourth in 2017, the Wolves missed making the Finals field last spring by a stroke. Clarkston came back and dominated last week’s Regional at Pine Knob, shooting a 292 to finish 11 strokes ahead of a field that included No. 7 Detroit Catholic Central and No. 6 Hartland. Senior Noah Bridgeman shot 71 to finish first individually, and seniors Patrick Deardorff and Harry Bowman tied for second, one stroke back. All three were in the Finals lineup two years ago as well.
Warren De La Salle: The Pilots missed last season’s Finals even more tragically than Clarkston, tying for the third spot at their Regional and then losing the fifth-score tie-breaker by a stroke. This time De La Salle won its Regional at The Orchards with a 303, three strokes lower than No. 8 Grosse Pointe South and nine better than No. 4 Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice.
Rockford: The Rams have improved from 15th to fifth to second the last three Finals and enter this weekend coming off a win at The Meadows with a 294 that bettered the Regional field by 13 strokes. Senior Kevin Healy is a four-year varsity starter and rose from tied for eighth individually in 2017 to third last spring. All five Rams shot between 73-76 at the Regional, Healy and sophomore CJ Stephan leading with 73s that tied for fourth.
Other individuals of note: Healy is joined among top-10 returnees by Grosse Pointe South senior Coalter Smith (tied for fourth) and Portage Central junior Will Anderson (tied for eighth). Smith also finished third as a sophomore and is a four-year starter. He shot a 70 at his Regional, and Caledonia senior Cam Poll (68) was the only LPD1 golfer to go lower last week. Joining Bridgeman, Poll and Smith among Regional champs were Grand Blanc junior Ranveer Ajimal, Sterling Heights Stevenson senior Justin McCown and Ann Arbor Pioneer junior Colin Flanders.
LP Division 2 at Michigan State’s Forest Akers West
Reigning champion: Flint Powers Catholic
2018 runner-up: Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern
Top-ranked: 1. Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern, 2. DeWitt, 3. Ada Forest Hills Eastern.
Reigning champion Powers didn’t qualify for the Finals, and Forest Hills Northern will look to make the jump after finishing just three strokes behind the Chargers last season. FHN is seeking its first championship in this sport since winning Class C in 1983. DeWitt is playing for its fourth Finals title in 10 seasons after coming in eighth but only 21 strokes off the lead last spring. Forest Hills Eastern was 10th last year and is seeking its first title, having finished runner-up in 2014.
Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern: The Huskies have been hovering around a potential title, tying for fourth in 2016, eighth in 2017 and finishing second alone last season. They return their entire lineup after just missing out, and senior Andrew Kolar was third individually last season. Forest Hills Northern won its Regional at Gaylord Country Club by four strokes ahead of Forest Hills Eastern, led by senior Noah Kolar (71) finishing second individually.
DeWitt: The Panthers shot the lowest Regional score in Division 2 last week, 296 at Eldorado, to finish ahead of No. 9 Haslett by 20 strokes. Senior Charlie DeLong shot a 66 to finish first by two strokes as three DeWitt golfers placed among the top five. He tied for fourth individually last season and is the only senior among the team’s top five.
Ada Forest Hills Eastern: The Hawks tied for fourth in 2016, finished third in 2017 and then fell back to 10th last season, but should make a run at the top also returning all five starters from last year’s run. Senior Brad Smithson finished sixth individually a year ago and tied for third as a sophomore, and he won the Regional in Gaylord by five strokes with a 66.
Other individuals of note: This could be a special race with eight of last season’s top 12 individuals (top 10 with ties) set to play again this weekend including reigning champion Alex Jordan of Mason and reigning runner-up Nick Krueger of Spring Lake. Krueger, a senior, also tied for fifth as a sophomore before last season finishing two strokes behind Jordan, a senior now as well. Byron Center senior Tanner Moore (tied for fourth), Marshall junior Matt Flynn (ninth) and Gaylord senior Brendon Gouin (tied for 10th) also are back. Jordan, Ionia senior Tyler Hausserman and Mattawan senior Luke Pelak all broke 70 in winning Regional championships, and Farmington sophomore Tyler Kilmas and South Lyon East junior Jason Zobl also claimed titles two weeks ago.
LP Division 3 at Ferris State’s Katke Golf Course
Reigning champion: Hanover-Horton
2018 runner-up: Big Rapids
Top-ranked: 1. Grand Rapids NorthPointe Christian, 2. Big Rapids, 3. Jackson Lumen Christi.
Big Rapids is seeking its first championship since 2008 and has been on the verge, finishing runner-up the last two seasons – and last year missing out on the title on a fifth-golfer tie-breaker. Reigning champion Hanover-Horton didn’t make the field this weekend, but the Cardinals this time must face NorthPointe Christian, last season’s Division 4 title winner. Meanwhile, Jackson Lumen Christi should be in the mix to add a sixth championship in 11 seasons.
Grand Rapids NorthPointe Christian: After finishing Division 4 runner-up in 2017, NorthPointe took the next step last spring. Two starters return, including last season’s individual champion Erik Fahlen. The Mustangs shot a 308 last week at Pigeon Creek, tying No. 5. Grand Rapids West Catholic but claiming the Regional title on a fifth-golfer tie-breaker (No. 6 Grand Rapids South Christian also was in the field.). Junior Lance VanErmen, also a returning starter, led with a runner-up finish.
Big Rapids: The Cardinals also bring two starters back this weekend, reigning Division 3 individual champion Pierce Morrissey and Owen Seay, who tied for seventh in 2018. The pair of seniors took first and tied for third, respectively, at their Regional at A-Ga-Ming, Seay with junior teammate Trevor Woodard. Big Rapids shot a 301 to clear a field including No. 9 Elk Rapids and No. 10 Cheboygan by 26 strokes.
Jackson Lumen Christi: After winning the championship in 2017, the Titans came in fifth last year with a mostly new group. Four starters are back this time, including senior Tanner Schnell who tied for fourth last season and also played for the title-winning team two years ago. Lumen Christi shot a 314 to win the Regional at Cascades by seven strokes, finishing ahead of a field including No. 8 Leslie and No. 4 Napoleon. Junior Conor Spencer finished second and junior Matt Saunders sixth at the Regional – both also started last season.
Other individuals of note: St. Louis senior Grant Mills tied for ninth at last season’s Final and is the only other top-10 placer back at this tournament. He joined Morrissey among Regional winners last week, as did West Catholic junior Aaron Ryan, Constantine senior Brendon Patmalnieks, Hanover-Horton junior Jack Brockie and Grosse Ile junior Evan Johnson. Ryan shot a 69 for the division’s lowest score of the tournament round.
LP Division 4 at The Meadows at Grand Valley State
Reigning champion: Grand Rapids NorthPointe Christian
2018 runner-up: Clarkston Everest Collegiate
Top-ranked: 1. Clarkston Everest Collegiate, 2. Kalamazoo Hackett Catholic Prep, 3. Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett.
After winning consecutive championships in 2016 and 2017, Everest Collegiate finished runner-up to NorthPointe Christian a year ago. As noted above, NorthPointe is playing in Division 3 this weekend, and Everest Collegiate is the favorite again. Hackett was fourth and Liggett fifth, respectively, at last season’s Final.
Clarkston Everest Collegiate: Two starters return from last season’s runner-up run, and senior Mitch Lowney finished fifth individually. The Mountaineers shot a 314 to win the Regional at Fountains by seven strokes over No. 3 Liggett. Lowney was the Regional individual champ and three Everest golfers finished among the top eight; senior Kevin Meehan, also a starter last year, placed third.
Kalamazoo Hackett: The Irish are seeking their first championship since 2013 and will make a run with their four leading scorers from the 2018 Final. All five of this weekend’s golfers placed among the top eight at the Regional at Milham Park as Hackett shot a division-best 308 to win by 45 strokes. Sophomore Ryan Chafty finished first and junior Will Verduzco and sophomore Tommy Keyte tied for second. Verduzco just missed the top 10 at last year’s Final but finished fifth in 2017.
Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett: The Knights are seeking their first Finals title in this sport since 1982 and made a jump last season to fifth from 13th in 2017. Two starters are back this weekend – junior Colin Degnore was second at last week’s Regional as three Liggett golfers finished among the top six with Everest Collegiate in the same field.
Other individuals of note: Clinton senior Austin Fauser tied for third last season, and he took first and Lowney was second at the 2017 Final. (Fauser also finished ninth as a freshman in 2016.) Frankfort senior Will Newbold tied for eighth last season and like Chafty, Lowney and Fauser won a Regional title last week. Manistee Catholic Central senior John Slivka and Marlette senior Alex Heussner also were Regional champs.
PHOTO: Big Rapids’ Pierce Morrissey watches one of his shots on the way to winning the LP Division 3 championship in 2018. (Click to see more from HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)
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)