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Kalamazoo Hackett sends message to doubters with second consecutive boys golf state title

MLive - GrandRapids/Muskegon/Kalamazoo logo MLive - GrandRapids/Muskegon/Kalamazoo 6/16/2021 Patrick Nothaft, mlive.com
a man swinging a baseball bat: Ryan Chafty from Kalamazoo Hackett swings the club during the division 4 golf state finals on Saturday, June 8, 2019 at Grand Valley State University's course "The Meadows" in Allendale, Mich. © Alyssa Keown | MLive.com/Alyssa Keown | MLive.com Ryan Chafty from Kalamazoo Hackett swings the club during the division 4 golf state finals on Saturday, June 8, 2019 at Grand Valley State University's course "The Meadows" in Allendale, Mich.

KALAMAZOO, MI – It was a championship run two years in the making for Kalamazoo Hackett, when the boys golf team hoisted their Division 4 state title trophy Saturday at the Fortress Golf Course in Frankenmuth.

After returning the top four players from their 2019 state championship team, the Irish were confident they’d repeat in 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic squashed those chances before the season teed off.

To find some semblance of closure, Hackett set up a summer showdown with 2019 Division 4 runner-up Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett, which was also set to return four of its top five golfers.

Both teams made the trip to The Fortress, which would have held the 2020 Division 4 state finals, and when the final putt trickled in the cup, Liggett edged Hackett by “one or two” strokes, said Hackett head coach Jim Holton, adding that the finish came with a bit of controversy.

“I don’t know if you want to say they pulled a fast one, but they contacted us, and we went up there and thought we were going to have a regular match, and then they flipped their order so my No. 1 had to play with their No. 5, and my No. 2 had to play with their No. 4, and right on down the line,” he said. “I don’t know, I just think that destroyed us right out of the gate when we found out we weren’t going head-to-head against them.”

a young boy in a green field: Tommy Keyte from Kalamazoo Hackett tees off during the division 4 golf state finals on Saturday, June 8, 2019 at Grand Valley State University's course "The Meadows" in Allendale, Mich. © Alyssa Keown | MLive.com/Alyssa Keown | MLive.com Tommy Keyte from Kalamazoo Hackett tees off during the division 4 golf state finals on Saturday, June 8, 2019 at Grand Valley State University's course "The Meadows" in Allendale, Mich.

That experience helped motivate Hackett’s three returning seniors – Tommy Keyte, Ryan Chafty and Ben Bridenstine – and the trio led the Irish to an undisputed Division 4 title on Saturday, when they edged runner-up Lansing Christian, 640 to 646.

“I think they put a little more effort into the summer,” Holton said of his golfers. “Going back once again to the thought of last season, I think there were probably some doubters on whether or not we would have won it last year, had we had a season, so I think that motivated them a little bit to practice a little harder this summer and prepare for the season.”

Keyte, a Saginaw Valley State signee, led the way with a two-day score of 149 (74-75) and placed second individually, while Bridenstine (158), Chafty (163) and sophomore Niklas Johansson (171) rounded out the top four.

Throughout the season, Holton said the thought of aiming for three consecutive state titles arose here and there, mostly because of the missed opportunity for class of 2020 graduate Will Verduzco, who averaged 74.13 strokes per round in his freshman year at Hillsdale this spring.

“I don’t know if we dwelled on it too much, but we just kind of felt bad that our lone senior and No. 1 player (Verduzco) didn’t get to play his senior season last year,” Holton said. “After the finals got underway this year, there was a little bit of relief, I would say, and then also a little bit of wanting to get started to prove that we could have won it last year.”

Hackett entered the playoffs as the state’s No. 1 team in Division 4, and Holton said he was confident his Irish were the team to beat, and his golfers also held that belief.

“I look at the finals rosters for the other teams and see what players they may or may not have coming back and what kind of short scores they shot, and then I look at the scores throughout the season through the Michigan Interscholastic Golf Coaches Association, so I was able to see the other scores around the state, and I thought we were pretty much head and shoulders above everybody else,” Holton said.

“Every time I brought up or mentioned a team like Charlevoix, for instance – they posted a really good score prior to the regional – and Glen Lake put up a good score, but they would always discount that and say, ‘Nah, we got ‘em, coach,’ so I think they were pretty confident and weren’t too scared about the other competition,” he added of his golfers.

But that confidence was put to the test Saturday.

Hackett held a four-stroke lead over Lansing Christian after Day 1, and the Irish increased that margin in the early part of Day 2, only to see the Pilgrims make up ground and move atop the leaderboard heading into the back nine of the final round.

“We got off to a really fast start, so we created some distance right off the bat, and I thought we’d continue to go, but we lost that, and actually we were trailing by a little bit and had make up some ground and regain the lead, and I’d like to attribute a lot of that to our studies of the course the day before,” said Holton, whose team played a practice round at The Fortress on Thursday. “We knew going in — at least I did as a coach — that there were tough holes ahead, and I thought my bottom order was a little better than their bottom order, and as it panned out, that’s where we made up strokes.”

Keyte, Bridenstine, Chafty and Johansson combined to shoot a 158 on the back nine, while Lansing Christian’s top four carded a 166.

“I think we felt the pressure in the second day when they found out they weren’t in the lead,” Holton said. “I think they thought to themselves, ‘Boy, maybe this isn’t a shoo-in,’ and buckled down for those last nine holes.”

Keyte, Bridenstine and Chafty all graduate as two-time state champs, while this year’s No. 5 golfer – senior Grayson Walters – picked up his first championship medal.

Unlike Hackett’s 2019 title, the Irish will need to replace the bulk of their roster, but Holton said he’s looking forward to the challenge.

“We’re losing four guys, and we have a lot of work to do, but we have a lot of young kids that have kind of caught the bug,” he said. “A couple of my JV players this year have caught the bug, and they’re going to work really hard this summer, and I just recently found out that we have a pretty good eighth grade crew coming in.

“We have a lot of work to do. We not only have a lot of shoes to fill, we have big shoes to fill, so I’m looking forward to that challenge.”

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