MHSAA considers changes after review of boys golf scores

Tony Paul
The Detroit News
The MHSAA will review how it monitors players during the state golf tournament.

The Michigan High School Athletic Association is planning discussions about how it monitors scoring at its postseason events, following team scores that "raised some eyebrows" at regionals late last month.

The boys golf teams at Fair Haven Anchor Bay and Harrison Township L'Anse Creuse entered Division I regional play averaging a four-player score of 334 and 345, respectively, and ended up posting 284 and 296, respectively, at regionals.

Those posted scores earned the schools — two of the lower-seeded schools entering regional play — the top two spots at regionals and, thus, a ticket to the state finals, which were held over the weekend in East Lansing.

In the two-day state finals, Anchor Bay shot 385-353 and L'Anse Creuse shot 401-376. For Anchor Bay, that averaged out to 85 shots worse at states — where there are markers, or observers with every group — than at regionals, and for L'Anse Creuse, that averaged out to 92 shots worse. Anchor Bay finished second-to-last out of the 18-team field, 33 shots worse than the next-worse team over the two days. L'Anse Creuse finished last, 72 shots worse than the 16th-place team.

The episode has raised questions within the prep golf community, which the MHSAA acknowledges.

"Certainly, those scores raised some eyebrows coming out of regionals," said Cody Inglis, assistant director at the MHSAA. "We looked at it and said, 'What's going on?' The challenge of that is that ... the MHSAA rules, once the scores are shot (and posted) and everybody leaves the course, there is no changing of scores. The rules of golf dictate that same exact thing."

Still, after the regional, held May 30 at Twin Lakes Golf Club in Oakland Township, MHSAA officials did investigate the situation.

Inglis said the MHSAA circled back to officials at Anchor Bay and L'Anse Creuse, multiple times.

"We asked them several times, please investigate this, please look at this, please talk to the kids, talk to the coaches," Inglis said. "And after numerous investigations, multiple calls and talks like that, there was no evidence whatsoever that these kids cheated other than circumstantial (evidence), previous scores shot this year, averages, handicaps, things like that. And that really can't be used to decide if someone's guilty or not."

Anchor Bay athletic director Jason Battle and golf coach Steve Price, and L'Anse Creuse athletic director Orlando Medina and golf coach Scott Opalewski, did not return messages from The Detroit News seeking comment.

No strict oversight

Prior to 2010, there were observers with every group at regional play, but that also was the first year that coaches were allowed to give guidance to their players on the course. So instead of sticking with one group, coaches could work their way around the course, checking in on different players. Therefore, assigned markers essentially went away.

There was interest in finding volunteers to take the place of the coaches, but Inglis said that was problematic on two fronts. One, regional hosts had a hard time finding enough volunteers. And two, volunteers weren't always that familiar with the official rules of golf, and there was fear of a volunteer giving a player the wrong advice, and costing that player strokes or, even worse, a disqualification.

So, in short, since 2010, there has been no strict oversight with groups at regionals.

For this Division 1 regional, Lake Orion was the host school. Participating schools were asked to send average scores to Lake Orion golf coach Monty Gallaher, who served as the tournament manager, for pairings purposes. Gallaher then shared them with athletic director Christopher Bell, for establishing the pairings. The best schools were paired together, and the worst together, etc., for pace-of-play issues.

In this case, Anchor Bay, L'Anse Creuse and Fraser were assigned together. So in five groups, there was one player from each of the three schools.

"My golf coach sends out the flights well in advance to all the coaches so everyone knows who they are playing with," Bell said.

Here's how the scores came in at Twin Lakes, keeping in mind the top four scores are used, with the fifth being thrown out:

Anchor Bay (334 average): 284 (4 under) — Golfer A 68, Golfer B 68, Golfer C 73, Golfer D 75, Golfer E 79.

L'Anse Creuse (345 average): 296 — Golfer A 72, Golfer B, Golfer C 74, Golfer D 77, Golfer E 83.

Fraser (364 average): 313 — Golfer A 73, Golfer B 77, Golfer C 79, Golfer D 84, Golfer E 97.

Lake Orion finished third at 308 and earned the last of three invitations to states. Rochester Adams was fourth at 310 and Bloomfield fifth at 312. Fraser was sixth and didn't qualify as a team, but its top golfer at regionals qualified as an individual.

Officials from Adams and Bloomfield did not respond to messages from The News seeking comment.

Now, here's how things played out at states, held Friday and Saturday at The Meadows on the campus of Grand Valley State in Allendale:

Anchor Bay (284 regionals): 385-353—738 — Golfer A 93-83, Golfer C 91-90, Golfer E 96-89, Golfer B 105-91, Golfer D 114-111.

L'Anse Creuse (296 regionals): 401-376—777 — Golfer A 99-90, Golfer B 97-95, Golfer D 103-92, Golfer C 102-99, Golfer E 99-99.

Anchor Bay finished 140 strokes out of first place, L'Anse Creuse 179 strokes.

To put their state-finals scores — 738 and 777 — in perspective  here are the last-place scores from the past 10 Division 1 state finals: 708, 669, 660, 635, 658, 665, 669, 623, 680 and 682. The four rounds shot, collectively, by Anchor Bay and L'Anse Creuse qualify as four of the five worst single-day Division I finals rounds in state history.

Lake Orion, by the way, which took third at regionals with the 308, finished eighth at states, with rounds of 317 and 326.

The Fraser player who qualified as an an individual with a 73 at regionals shot 90-93 at states, and finished third-to-last.


'We'll be talking about this'

Improprieties in prep golf can be common in regular-season matches, when less is on the line, than in the postseason, where oversight typically has been more available.

Again, that changed quite drastically in 2010, especially at regionals, where observers were scrapped as coaches wanted more freedom to roam the golf course to check so they could check in on all their players.

The MHSAA plans lengthy discussions at its December golf meeting on potential changes that should be and can be instituted.

This past fall for girls golf, for the first time, a rules official was assigned to each regional to work with the host athletic director and coaches. That will be considered for the boys season moving forward. Other plans will be discussed and debated, too.

"We'll be talking about this, as you can imagine, in-depth," said Inglis, of the MHSAA. "That agenda gets set by the MHSAA, with input from members, the board ...

"Scoring integrity isn't a new issue. But obviously, anytime a situation like this occurs, it forces us to look at our rules and what we have in place.

"There's not anybody surrounding high-school golf that doesn't look at this and want to dig into this and see what we can do and what we should do."