By Dean Holzwarth
Special for Second Half
GRAND RAPIDS – While most high school golfers were spending this winter counting down the days until the snow melted, one Grand Rapids-area golfer was measuring his game against the top players around the world.
Bradley Smithson, a junior at Ada Forest Hills Eastern, was invited to take part in a prestigious event hosted by one of the most recognizable names in professional golf.
Smithson, 17, competed in the Dustin Johnson World Junior Golf Championship in Myrtle Beach, S.C., Feb. 23-25 at the TPC of Myrtle Beach.
He was one of only two players from Michigan; the other was Patrick Sullivan of Grosse Pointe.
The tournament included a talented field of junior golfers from the United States, as well as Spain and Morocco.
Smithson shot 83 and 75, but wound up missing the cut by four strokes.
“I missed the cut, but that was a great experience, and I took a lot away from that,” Smithson said. “Dustin set it up like a professional tournament and made it feel like we were on tour. We had tour yardage books, we had our own locker and we had nameplates on the range.
“In the first round I played with a kid who committed to Virginia and another one to USC, and they were two years younger than me. The competition was absolutely excellent.”
Smithson also made a name for himself last summer when he finished among the top 30 at the Michigan Open.
It was an event that saw him compete against his father Gary, a PGA Professional at Quail Ridge Golf Course.
“I loved it,” Smithson said. “Competing against my father and all that stuff was a lot of fun. The golf course was absolutely perfect, and it was weird to be only four groups off the lead group and playing with two guys who were trying to make it on the tour.
“Being in that type of big tournament, you need to hit shots that you needed to hit, and your game definitely had to be on point that week.”
Smithson hopes to parlay those experiences into another successful high school season.
As a sophomore, Smithson tied for third individually at the MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 2 Final. He also helped the Hawks to a third-place finish as a team.
“I had expectations to try and win it, but I knew there was going to be some good competition and I definitely had to play well in order to win,” Smithson said. “It was going to take a good score to win, and it did. I was pretty happy with how I played, and I put myself in good position after the first round. We were in there as a team, too, and we all played well in the second round, which was just as good.”
Smithson ended his season with all-state honors, while averaging 37.5 strokes for nine holes and 75.4 strokes for 18.
He has higher aspirations for this season, both individually and for his team.
“Last year was a pretty good season, but I didn’t accomplish all the goals I would like, which is (all-state) Super Team, but that’s for sure going to be a goal this year,” Smithson said. “I want to make it back to state and hopefully be in contention individually and as a team. We’re looking pretty good again.”
Smithson will be the catalyst on a squad that returns five golfers under first-year coach Frank Jenks.
“I just love watching him play, and he’s a really good kid,” Jenks said. “Now that I’ve been around him, he’s not only a good kid, but he’s a hard worker. Now I know why he’s so good. He cares about the game, and he puts the time and effort in. That’s a coach’s dream.”
Smithson started playing golf as a toddler and gained a wealth of knowledge from being around his father.
“I’ve learned a tremendous amount from my dad,” Smithson said. “Growing up all my life, sitting in the golf cart next to him and just seeing how he plays golf. Not so much attacking with yardages, but where to hit it and golf management.”
Smithson is long off the tee and a consistent putter. However, his wedge game has become a point of emphasis.
“I’ve worked very hard in the offseason on my wedges and have seen it pay off the first couple weeks,” he said. “Playing in Myrtle Beach, my wedges were a very big part and I saw improvement with those. It’s getting to where it needs to be.”
Smithson already has made his college choice. He committed to Michigan State following his freshman year.
Smithson was impressed with the facilities and coaching staff at MSU, and now he won’t be burdened by the pressures of the recruiting process.
“I won’t have that monkey on my back of having to perform well and getting those coaches out there looking at me,” Smithson said. “I have that done, and now I can just go out there and play golf and not have to worry about scores.”
Dean Holzwarth covered primarily high school sports for the Grand Rapids Press and MLive for 16 years and more recently served as sports editor of the Ionia Sentinel and as a sports photojournalist for WZZM. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org with story ideas for Allegan, Kent and Ottawa counties.
PHOTOS: (Top) Ada Forest Hills Eastern’s Bradley Smithson lines up a putt during the 2016 Lower Peninsula Division 2 Final at Bedford Valley. (Middle) Smith, front and third from left, stands with the rest of the individual leaders after last season’s Final at The Meadows at Grand Valley State University. (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)