Powers North Central junior Bryson Mercier has missed a large portion of the typically-shorter spring golf season in the Upper Peninsula due to attending his Uncle’s retirement after 22 years serving in the U.S. Army.
But Mercier still worked on his golf skills along the way, albeit in entirely different surroundings than his native Upper Peninsula.
“Yeah, it was awesome,” he said about testing out the links at Royal Hawaiian Golf Course. “An amazing course and the views were nothing like you’d ever see here, that’s for sure. Probably the coolest golf course I have ever played on.”
Now back home in the western U.P., Mercier is aspiring to add to his Upper Peninsula Division 3 Finals championship won in 2019 as a freshman, and after COVID-19 forced the cancelation of his 2020 high school season.
He won the Big Bay Invitational this season and took runner-up at both of his other invitationals to date, one a 9-hole co-ed event and shooting a 72 in the other.
Mercier first received a little bit of notice at age 14 when he won a Drive, Chip and Putt local qualifier in Green Bay, Wis. Soon after he won the aforementioned U.P. Division 3 championship with a 74; his next two closest competitors tied with 82s. Then he won the Junior Tour championship of the Upper Peninsula Golf Association (UPGA) in 2019 – and he won it again during the summer of 2020 with a 1-under par 71.
Yet what really lifted Mercier’s golfing profile was earning Junior Player of the Year honors in Wisconsin last summer.
That’s the best place for Mercier to compete in multiple junior events within reasonable driving distance. Powers is due south of Marquette and west of Escanaba. He’s played in only one Michigan event ‘below the bridge’ – the GAM Junior Invitational. Most American Junior Golf Association (AJGA) events, where college coaches tend to swarm, are 7-10 hours’ drive away and simply not feasible.
Becoming Wisconsin Junior Player of the Year was not a specific goal – but it’s put him on the radar of college coaches, as it should. Earning any state’s top spot in summer-long accumulated points is no easy feat.
“That’s not what I was looking to do,” Mercier said about Wisconsin Player of the Year, yet he would like to repeat it soon, after his junior year in high school concludes next week. “I set short-term goals for each tournament. I’m not a person that likes to look too much into the future, because if you focus too much on the future, you’re going to miss something that’s happening right now.
“But that was the highlight of my summer.”
Mercier played about a dozen 2020 Wisconsin events and placed in the top 10 every time – a very consistent accomplishment he said he is proud of most. He won the WPGA Players Tour event at Blackwolf Run in a playoff, then posted consecutive victories on the Irish Course at Whistling Straights – the College Showcase with a 74 and then another WPGA Junior Tour event. The very next day he grabbed a fourth win with a personal-best 67 in a WPGA Junior Tour event in Green Bay. He added three runner-up finishes on the Wisconsin tour, which typically features the better high school players in that state.
In Wisconsin he averaged 72.5 strokes over 14 tournament rounds. His second consecutive UPGA win gave him five tournament victories during the summer of 2020.
Mercier grew up a Tiger Woods fan just like his dad, who introduced him to the game with toy clubs as a toddler.
“He never forced golf on me, I just picked up on it myself,” Mercier said.
Mercier has been self-taught ever since. He doesn’t see the need for a swing coach, and who can argue? He said he can feel when something is wrong and typically corrects it fairly quickly. He’s driving the ball further with more regimented workouts, currently averaging 280-85 yards off the tee and climbing (the PGA Tour average at The Players Championship in March was 296 yards).
In more recent years, Mercier relates to different player on the PGA Tour.
“Rory McIlroy is my favorite pro right now,” Mercier said. “His body is a lot more like mine – a shorter, smaller individual.”
Mercier has college scholarship offers from University of Detroit Mercy and Wisconsin-Green Bay. With his high school junior season soon to conclude, he has more opportunities to impress scouts.
He wants to study business. Math is his favorite subject. He said that college golf won’t necessarily lead to a pro stint on Tour, but that it will help in expanding personal and business connections for a successful career.
“Bryson is relentless as a player … he has taken his natural talent to the next level through hard work and a tremendous desire to excel,” said North Central coach Gerald Whitens. “He displays a great attitude in the classroom (3.89 GPA, president of National Honor Society) and along with fellow students and teaching staff. The same work ethic that has made him such a good golfer has made him a strong student.
“His accuracy both off the tee and with mid-irons allow him to play precision golf, while his length has improved with fitness training and confidence. He takes pride in his short game and rarely three-putts or fails to get up and down after a missed green.”
Mercier said his goals are: “Just keep getting better, learn from high school, learn from college. Just take in everything.”
North Central has never been a golf school. Basketball is the main attraction to the youth in that region, where Mercier’s father, Adam, coached the Jets boys varsity to three straight Class D titles from 2015-17 while amassing Michigan’s state record in the sport of 83 consecutive victories.
Bryson was in late elementary and middle school at that time, as a starting point guard, but has dedicated his high school career to golf, where it appears that winning runs in the family.
“I feel like I can help make a difference to maybe get younger people my age to try golf,” he said. “It’s such a good sport for young people to get into because it’s such a life-skills sport. You can learn so much more outside of golf by playing golf, all the life lessons. You can develop great personality traits.
“I think every young person should play golf. You don’t have to be good at golf to play golf and have fun. If you choose basketball, you’re going to have to be really good at it. You don’t have to be amazing at golf to still have fun at the same time.”
That said, Mercier is one amazing golfer – who is also having fun.
PHOTOS: (Top) North Central’s Bryson Mercier keeps his eyes on an approach shot during last summer’s WPGA Junior Championship. (Middle) Mercier follows through on a drive during a round last summer. (Photos by Rob Hernandez/Wisconsin.Golf).
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)