Boys Golf Team Flying High After Top Tournament Finish
According to their coach, the Greenhills boy’s golf team’s fortunes often “ebb and flow.” Well, so far this season, they haven’t just flowed — they’ve risen like a breaking wave, high above where even their coach thought they would be.
Coming into the Barton Hills golf tournament on April 22, the team’s expectations were middling. It was an early-season event. It was windy and cold. And while Greenhills’ golf team competes in MHSAA Division III, three of the other participants in the tournament — Pioneer, Huron, and Skyline — all compete in Division I.
“Generally, we finish fourth or fifth in this tournament,” said head coach Michael Karr. “Generally we’re not even competing with the other Division I schools.”
On the golf course, Karr can’t watch all of his players at once. He’s not even particularly interested in tracking the score as it’s happening: he cares more about the decisions his golfers are making, and how their thought process is leading them to approach the course. This year, in fact, he’s having his team work on the mental side game: sports psychology, strategy, and decision-making. At the Barton Hills tournament, though, Karr did have one tool that he’d never used before: a new scorekeeping app, utilized as part of MHSAA’s COVID protocols.
With the app, Karr still didn’t have an exact picture of what was happening all over the course. But he could see enough to know that his team was cruising. When all was said and done, Greenhills had shot a 319, good for a second-place finish. The Gryphons finished only 14 strokes behind Skyline, which is ranked #2 in MHSAA Division One, and finished more than 30 strokes ahead of Pioneer and Huron, both Division I schools.
For Greenhills to compete with these Division I powerhouses, let alone conclusively defeat two of them, is far from typical; in fact, it’s almost unusual, and may signal special times ahead for the team.
“It’s a great start,” Karr said. “It’s a little unusual for guys to be playing this well early in the season.” Typically, Karr said, the team’s scores improve as the weather gets warmer. So the team’s 319 at the Barton Hills tournament — which Karr called “a very good score for us” — might get even better.
The thing that’s impressed Karr most so far about his team is also the skillset he’s emphasizing this season: the mental game. When it’s cold and windy, shots don’t fly as far, and they’re harder to control. So raw strength doesn’t matter quite as much, and strategy and decision-making can become decisive factors.
“Our ability to select the type of shot to play — into the wind, while it’s cold — has been great this season,” Karr said.
Because the 2020 golf season was lost to COVID, this year’s team has been almost two years in the making. When the season was first shut down last March, Karr began work on setting quarantine goals for his team, and by June, he had communicated his goals to his players. They boiled down to something simple: improve as much as possible, as safely as possible. When golf courses were open and safe, his players took lessons; when they weren’t, they worked out on their own, or found other ways to improve their games.
When the team reconvened in Spring 2021, Karr said, he was taken aback.
“I felt like a grandparent who hadn’t seen their grandchildren in a year,” he said. “All of a sudden they’re this much taller” — he held his hands feet apart — “and playing skills have improved.”
It wasn’t just physical growth that he noticed, he added: it was also improvements to maturity and thought processes; improvements that, so far this season, have been evident.
His two captains and top scorers, Cale Piedmonte-Lang and Beau Brewer, were both freshmen the last time he saw them play a full season: now, they’re much-improved juniors. Max Shulman, another top scorer, is only a freshman. The team only has one senior, Jack Mikhail, and has large groups of juniors and sophomores. So Karr says this team isn’t just a one-year wonder: much of the core will stay together for at least two seasons.
Can the team keep up with the excellent pace they’ve set so far? Karr thinks so, although he’s confident that they’ll face a setback at some point, as every team does. The important thing, he said, is being able to take a setback in stride and correcting it, rather than letting it come to define a season.
“I wouldn’t mind some adversity,” he said. “You just don’t want it at the end of the season, when it’s regionals and state finals.”
By James Schapiro, Greenhills School Staff Writer