The Houghton boys golf team won its 10th Finals championship this season, and sixth Upper Peninsula Division 1 title over the last 10 seasons. Two of those other four seasons, the Gremlins finished runners-up. With a run like that, more success isn't going to surprise anyone.
But this spring’s team exceeded expectations.
The outdoor portion of Houghton’s boys golf season lasted about five weeks. The Gremlins’ home course, Portage Lake, opened May 9, and the team’s first outdoor practice was that day. But by June 1, the Gremlins were shooting in the 320s as a team and clinching another Division 1 title – earning the MHSAA/Applebee’s “Team of the Month” honor for May with that first day of June an exclamation mark on another fantastic season.
“Some of our other teams have had more golf talent. But these guys have worked hard and gotten better and better and kept improving and exceeded expectations a little bit,” said Houghton coach Corey Markham, who also leads the perennially state-contending hockey program. “It’s an awesome group.”
After finishing UPD1 runner-up and five strokes back of champion Marquette in 2021, Houghton took back the top spot this time shooting a 329 at Sage Run to edge Marquette by five strokes. Sophomore Marino Pisani (78) and junior Camden Markham (83) finished second and tied for eighth, respectively, in the individual standings. Juniors Cooper Leonard (84) and Ryan Schmierer (84), and senior Ryan Vlahos (85) – who also was back from the 2021 group – rounded out the winning lineup.
Corey Markham noted how his three returnees helped the lineup find more consistency this season. Marino dropping his scores into the 70s also was a big plus. “He puts in the most time and just lives golf,” Markham said.
Boys golf teams in Michigan could begin practice March 14 and competition March 21. The Upper Peninsula as a whole, due to winter weather, generally gets going later – but Markham said teams in the southern U.P. have even a two or three-week head start on those at the northern tip of the peninsula.
Markham called what his team can do with practice over that first month “minimal” – for obvious reasons – and also as it shares indoor space with the softball and baseball teams also waiting for the weather to turn. The golf team does some work on rules and with video, and uses a simulator to bring back some of the muscle memory from the previous summer.
The Gremlins played in two tournaments during the last week of April – nearly two weeks before that first outdoor practice. They finished third in both of those events and in another May 10 the day after they’d finally gotten outside. But soon after the run started, and Houghton clinched the Western Peninsula Athletic Conference championship on the way to finishing with another Finals title.
“Our biggest success is due to our junior program at our golf course,” Markham said. “You get kids out, and they play a lot in the summer. Their basics and their background are the reasons they’re able to step in and start doing well with a short season.”
Past Teams of the Month, 2021-22
April: Plainwell girls soccer - Read
March: West Bloomfield girls basketball - Read
February: Cadillac girls skiing - Read
January: Hartland hockey - Read
December: Midland Dow girls basketball - Read
November: Reese girls volleyball - Read
October: Birmingham Groves boys tennis - Read
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)