Grosse Ile Dominates Michigan Prep Golf
Reference to a state athletic power usually conjures images of wide receivers sprinting into end zones or basketball centers jamming home rebounds. At Grosse Ile High School, however, the setting is neither on the football field nor the basketball court, but on rolling green fairways, where the boys' and girls' teams have garnered numerous distinctions over the past decade.
"Grosse Ile has a long heritage," states current boys' golf coach, Jim Bennett, who took the position in 1974, shortly after the school collected two state championships. "We are helped in that all three country clubs on the island (Grosse Ile Golf and Country Club, West Shore Country Club, and Waters Edge Country Club) have very strong junior programs. The clubs are also very good at allowing us to use their practice facilities and to play rounds of golf."
Grosse Ile has maintained a high level of proficiency for a number of reasons. First of all, the program enjoys a consistency that few others boast. In addition to being the boys' head coach, Bennett serves as assistant coach on the girls' team. The girls' head coach, Dick Stratt, acts as Bennett's assistant on the boys' team. This ensures that similar
coaching techniques are used and emphasis is placed where the two believe it should be.
Secondly, they get athletes who hold golf as a priority. "If you have to beg the kids to play, that is not good," asserts Bennett. "I want the ones who want to be there."
Once they have their players assembled, Bennett and Stratt hammer home
their main points. Chipping and putting is emphasized, of course, as well as etiquette, but Bennett makes certain his players know about course management. "When I am driving the kids to matches in my van, I remind them about how to play the course. I tell them where they should hit the ball, and if they are going to miss a shot where that should be."
Bennett and Stratt also explain the importance of composure and discipline. Bennett feels that too many shots are wasted when a player loses his or her temper, so he reminds the players to contain their emotions until after the round.
That sometimes becomes difficult, for Bennett tries to fill his non-league schedule with top-notch opponents instead of pushovers. "Other coaches have asked us how we have become so successful, and I always tell them that we purposely schedule the toughest teams and the toughest tournaments. That helps prepare the boys and girls for the state tournament. We're a Division 3 school, but we play a lot of Division 1 and Division 2 schools."
On top of the coaching expertise Bennett and Stratt provide, they rely on help from former players, who return to school to impart their wisdom, plus the aid of a golfing legend, former Michigan amateur champion Glenn Johnson. "Glenn Johnson has been a big help," explains Bennett. "He's worked with our kids, and he's scouted on his own, then come back with play books he compiled for the team. He loves watching our matches, then sitting down with the golfers afterward and critiquing their play."
The results of this system have been nothing short of phenomenal, especially in the last seven years. After finishing 11th in the state tournament in 1996 and seventh in 1997, the boys captured Grosse Ile's first team state championship in 1998, behind the effort of three all-staters. They then repeated their success in 1999 and 2000, before finishing second in the state finals to a more experienced team in 2001.
"We enjoyed success because we always had a mixture of good seniors and new players, so we always had fresh blood to build on. This year looks good since we only lost one senior from last year." Among his top talents are the Ebel brothers - senior Mike, who was last year's No. 1 player and the Most Valuable Player on the squad, and younger brother John.
The girls have registered even more spectacular results. They have advanced to the state finals in 14 of the last 15 seasons, and won the crown in 1996, 1997, 1998, and 2000.
The dual success has led to interesting psychology employed by Bennett or Stratt. With a number of brother-sister acts appearing on rosters over the years, the coaches prod one or the other to higher achievement. Bennett recalls telling one boy that, "Your sister's got a championship ring. Where's yours?"
Bennett sees many benefits to boys and girls participating in golf. Whenever they attend tournaments, they are recognized as belonging to one of the state's most successful programs, which brings college scouts around. At one time, seven girls attended Division I schools on full scholarships, including Sarah Martin, a current member of the Michigan State squad.
The individual who has attained the most success has been Justin Hicks, a graduate in 1992 who played golf for the University of Michigan before becoming a professional. He has played in a handful of PGA tournaments, but has enjoyed his greatest accomplishments on Florida's mini tours and as a club professional at Pine Tree Golf Club in Boynton Beach, Florida, where LPGA stars Meg Mallon, Karrie Webb, and Beth Daniel are members.
Bennett sees other benefits as well. Each summer the players help out in the junior program at Waters Edge, thereby learning the value of giving back to their community. They also learn that they can perform under pressure, something they can apply to other aspects of their lives.
"The kids get a lot of life skills from playing competitive golf," Bennett says. "One girl was so nervous before her state tournament match that I didn't think she'd make it to the first green without getting sick. She did, and now she knows she can handle difficult situations, even if she's nervous." MG
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