Liston leads Houghton boys back to top

MARQUETTE – Six solid months of poor weather has handed members of the Houghton boys golf team lemons, so they traveled south to make fresh-squeezed lemonade.

Led by sophomore medalist Wyatt Liston, the Gremlins shot 310 to beat out runner-up Escanaba by eight strokes and third-place Marquette by 11 for the team title at the MHSAA Upper Peninsula Division 1 finals on Wednesday at the Marquette Golf Club.

With an overabundance of snow from the winter that didn’t want to melt this spring, Houghton’s golfers had to come up with creative ways to practice as their home course, the Portage Lake Golf Course just south of town, only opened about two weeks ago.

“Four of us played during spring break,” said sophomore Gunnar Stein, whose 78 tied for second on the team to Liston’s medalist-winning score of 73.

They listed the District of Columbia, Florida and South Carolina as destinations for a week of respite from the cold – and a chance to actually play golf.

“I got to play for two weeks,” said the team’s eldest member, junior Brendan Longhini, who had the last score to count of 81. “I missed a week of school to stay down there longer.”

The five boys at Wednesday’s meet also said they’ve made a much shorter trip to the earlier-opening L’Anse Golf Club, playing “around five or six rounds” there, according to freshman Ben Strong, who recorded 78.

A Marquette golfer also took advantage of the big stage at his home course to record the round of his life. Junior Mike McGee, listed third on coach Ben Smith’s depth chart, shot the day’s second-best score of 75.

“I had a 77 a couple weeks ago; that had been my best score ever in practice or at a meet,” he said.

“Everything just came together. My drives were straight, my chipping was good and I hit some long putts.”

His round was reminiscent of one turned in by junior teammate Scott Frazier last year at Portage Lake. Not having broken 80 all spring, Frazier – also his team’s No. 3 golfer at the time – shot 71 to win medalist honors in the 2013 D1 finals.

It also left the Gremlins in second place to the Redmen on their home course. But Houghton has won the last two titles played in Marquette County, which includes the 2012 D1 crown at Wawonowin Country Club west of Ishpeming.

The four top-scoring Gremlins sank seven birdies between them, three by Liston. Just for insurance, Houghton’s Finn Storer shot a non-counting 91.

“Our kids love to play golf, and they play it a lot,” HHS coach Jack Kumpula said. “They’re golfers – they play all summer. They’re a pretty tight group. They always root for each other.

“My role is to impress upon them that every stroke counts, though they have a great mental approach to the game. It helps them minimize the effect of bad shots.”

Following Escanaba’s 318 and Marquette’s 321, Gladstone was fourth with 330, Kingsford fifth with 335 and Negaunee sixth with 348.

Calumet finished seventh in the 11-team field with 352 as Damon Kangas shot 84, older brother Kaden Kangas and Austin Rilei had 88s, Trevor Salata 92 and Ethan Larson a non-counting 95.

“The temperature was perfect and so was the course,” Damon Kangas, a freshman, said. “My short game was pretty good, and you needed it with some of the tight pin locations.”

He birdied the par-4 ninth hole despite hitting it in the rough with his tee shot. That shot out of the long stuff sailed to within a foot of the pin for a tap-in 3.