By Dennis Grall
Special for Second Half
IRON MOUNTAIN – When most people think of the Upper Peninsula's Copper Country, snow (huge amounts) and ice hockey come to mind.
Golf likely would not even be on the radar for most people. There is only one 18-hole course – Portage Lake Golf Club is an excellent layout – in the entire region to go with five 9-hole tracks, and the season is just more than five months long, in a good year.
But the Houghton High School girls easily can convince the most serious doubter that golf is a very attractive and popular activity. They showed that again in a big way here Thursday, romping to their fifth straight Upper Peninsula Division 1 golf championship.
The smallest in the nine-school field posted a 416 total to thump perennial contender Marquette by 20 strokes. Third-place Escanaba had 438, and no one else was better than 510.
Adding additional credence to the golf paradise aura is freshman Kaaren Liston of Houghton, who was medalist with a 90 at the very challenging Pine Grove Country Club. She was five strokes ahead of Marquette's Sydney Higgins, the only other entrant to break 100.
"This was a normal spring. It was a bit different," Houghton coach Corey Markham said of the ability to get on the course in mid-April instead of almost a month later in 2014. "The key is getting out and play and work on your game. They strive to get better.
"There is a lot of pride in the streak. There is not a whole lot of pressure."
Liston said her putting was a key, noting only one 3-putt green. "When I needed to make one, I made it. My chips I got close (to the hole). My putting saved me most of the time," she said. Her driving "was iffy. I hit it straight or to the right."
Liston had a key moment on her ninth hole, which was No. 18 after she started on No. 10. She pounded a long drive into the left rough but needed four swings from 110 yards before finally sinking a putt for double-bogey 6.
"I knew I needed to kick it in gear on the next nine," she said of that stumble that left her with a 10-over 46.
Liston spent spring break in Hilton Head, S.C., with her brother Wyatt and Gunnar Stein, who helped Houghton also retain the boys title. "That really helped get my swing in shape," she said.
She did not bring high personal expectations to Pine Grove. "I try to live in the moment, play my game and don't let it get to my head," she said. "This is great. I'm so excited about this. This is the icing on the cake."
Markham said his freshman ace "has a bright future. She is really a strong golfer."
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PHOTOS: (Top) The Houghton girls golf team poses with its MHSAA championship trophy, the fifth straight won by the program. (Middle) Kaaren Liston of Houghton chips out of the rough around the green Thursday at the Upper Peninsula Division 1 Final at Iron Mountain Pine Grove Country Club. Liston claimed medalist honors with a 90 to lead the Gremlins. (Below) Sam Henderson of Escanaba blasts out of a bunker on the eighth hole. She shot 112 to help the Eskymos finish third. (Photos by Dennis Grall.)