Season gets underway for GHS boys golf team
Caleb Casey | Managing Editor
The varsity boys golf team – a senior-heavy group with a new coach this year – recently started its 2017 campaign following a pre-season that included some creative inside work due to weather issues outside.
Official practices for the 2017 spring sports seasons in Michigan began on Monday, March 13, but conditions were not favorable until recently for the golf squad to play on its home course at the Grayling Country Club.
“It was too cold out when we started practice to play outside, along with the country club being closed until April 8, so we used the equipment that was purchased by the Jason Potter Memorial Fund along with some out-of-the-box ideas I had come up with, using five-gallon buckets and wiffle balls for chipping drills,” said Derek Johnston, new coach of the GHS boys golf team.
“I broke down and tweaked their golf swings with a desk from the classroom in the auditorium while they hit balls into a net in front of me. The difficulty for us was we didn’t have a putting green, so we used the carpet in the auditorium to ensure their putting posture and their heads weren’t moving. I used makeshift holes made of tin for them to putt into. Also, hitting golf balls off of artificial turf is much different than real grass,” Coach Johnston said.
“My biggest preach to the kids was watching the ball won’t change the outcome of the putt or the shot. I also talked a lot about balance and the pose. This is one of the best ways a kid can tell if he is swinging too hard on his own, which is the biggest problem with kids; they want to hit it as far as they can. I made them give me a pose at the end of every swing and hold it for five seconds. As a golf coach you can’t coach every kid on the course so you have to give them the tools mentally to enable them to coach themselves while playing,” Coach Johnston said.
Johnston did not have an offseason with his squad because he did not get the job until close to the start of the season.
“I was named head coach basically a couple weeks before practice started as I moved back to Grayling from Texas in February,” Coach Johnston said.
Johnston is a 2005 graduate of Grayling High School. He was an all-state golfer for the Vikings. During his senior season in the fall of 2004 – boys golf in Michigan, at that time, was a fall sport instead of a spring sport – Johnston’s team finished second at the state finals, and he posted a seventh place finish at the finals as an individual.
Johnston was inspired in part by Jason Potter to take the job. Potter, and Louis Menard, a player on the GHS golf squad, died following a car accident on April 29 of 2013; the squad was on the way to a meet in Traverse City when its vehicle collided with another. At the time, Potter was in his first season as coach of the program.
“Jason Potter was a good friend of mine and before moving back to Grayling I must have watched the video from the Golf Channel about the accident six or seven times, and the part where Jason’s mother says, ‘Jason was so excited about it and he had so many plans,’ really drove me to pursue the job in hopes I could keep those dreams alive,” Coach Johnston said.
Johnston said he is enjoying being the coach of the squad so far.
“I enjoy coaching because the kids bring a smile to my face every single day. It’s a time consuming job, but I couldn’t be more blessed to be given the chance to help the kids where I call home. I am also blessed with a great group of kids and parents, which makes my job much easier,” Coach Johnston said.
This year’s squad: Troy Summers, senior; Brady Bickford, junior; Darren Johnston, senior; Tyler Brandt, sophomore; David Walsh, sophomore; Easton Farrell, senior; Conner Beard, senior; Gage Davis, freshman; Gabriel Da Silva, senior.
“We have five seniors, one junior, two sophomores, and one freshman this year. Our starting line-up consists of three seniors, one junior, and two sophomores,” Coach Johnston said.
Coach Johnston said the players have been battling for the six starting spots.
“The starting line-up has changed every tournament since our first one. My two sophomores were transitioning for the sixth position in the beginning based off of practice scores. Since then, they have both integrated themselves into the starting line-up and have both climbed up into the third and fourth position right behind Troy and Brady. I am extremely proud of both of them for their hard work,” Coach Johnston said. “The dedication and love for the game is the driving force in their golf game.”
The squad was able to get outside to practice “around April 10,” Coach Johnston said.
“Once we got outside we got on the range and I worked with the kids in the same fashion as we did in the auditorium, but in real time so I could see each ball flight,” Coach Johnston said. “I have been focusing on target practice, each kid understanding his ball flight and creating consistency so they can find the right target while playing.”
Coach Johnston said the squad’s strength this year is its “willingness to get better.”
“I think they all understand they each have things to work on. I have such a humble squad, and they listen very well. They all are great kids,” Coach Johnston said. “Academically they are outstanding, and this is something as a coach I am proud of. They all get along well and each treat each other with respect and integrity and those two things are what the game of golf was built on.”
“Our second match of year after we finished they all went up and thanked the tournament and course owner for having them, which caused a chain reaction where each team followed their actions. We may have not won the tournament, but we definitely set the standard for year round being thankful and respecting all the other players and teams,” Coach Johnston said.
Coach Johnston wants the season to be fun for the players, and help foster a “love for the game.”
“My biggest preach to the kids on a daily basis is having fun. This game is something they can play for the rest of their lives, and it teaches honesty, respect, and integrity within itself, which should be the building blocks for every kid,” Coach Johnston said.
He also hopes to see steady improvement, and he wants the players to work on the mental aspect of the sport.
“Keeping their chins up when things get tough, not letting one bad hole create the result for the whole entire round. If they can focus on the positivity of the day right down to the golf shot and let the negative things go, they will continue to improve with every tournament,” Coach Johnston said.
Outlook for league play this year?
“The Lake Michigan Conference has some talent on every team. (We) finished seventh out of eight teams at our first meet of the year at Antrim Dells, then we came in at fifth over at the Torch course at the A-Ga-Ming resort, then came in sixth place at home in our most recent match. Charlevoix, Boyne City, and Elk Rapids seem to be the stronger teams in the conference, but every team is competitive and has a chance at a victory,” Coach Johnston said. “I truly believe Troy and Brady have just as much talent as any golfer in the (Lake Michigan Conference).”
The Vikings will compete against Traverse City St. Francis in Traverse City on Monday, May 8.