By Steve Gunn
Local Sports Journal

NORTON SHORES – It’s hardly news that a Mona Shores golfer finished second in districts, and has a good chance to finish high in the standings at the regional and state tournaments.

Mitchell White

Mona Shores’ Mitchell White.

Mona Shores is always great in golf, and its top players are frequently among the best high school players in Michigan.

But Mitchell White’s success is a bit more unusual.

Last year he was a sophomore and the No. 4 player on a Mona Shores golf team that finished third in the state.

As Sailor golf coach Scott Volkmann put it, “His job was to come in with a good score every once in a while.”

But the Sailors lost their three elite seniors to graduation last spring, and suddenly White became the No. 1 player on a team with a statewide reputation.

He’s handled the promotion beautifully.

White was the top individual golfer in the O-K Black Conference this spring. He took first at the Greater Muskegon City Meet and the Mona Shores Invitational, and finished third in a talented field at the East Lansing Invitational.

Now he’s off to a good start in the Division 1 state tournament, finishing second individually in last week’s district tournament (two shots behind Forest Hills Central’s Max Rispler) and helping the Sailors qualify for Thursday’s regional tournament in Holt.

The top three teams and top three individual golfers will qualify for the state finals. Mona Shores enters regionals as the state’s third-ranked team in Division 1.

Considering his early success and hunger to improve, it’s tough to believe White didn’t like golf as a youngster.

He remembers tagging along the course with his father and brother during his grade school years, because they both enjoyed the game.

But White says he wasn’t very good, and wasn’t very interested in being there.

His attitude started changing around the fifth grade when he started getting more instruction from his father, Lane White.

He says his dad is a self-taught golfer who helped him with the finer points of the game, once he was mature enough to listen and learn.

“I think I got my confidence from my dad,” White said. “When I was growing up he constantly told me that I could be as good as anyone if I put my mind to it.”

A few years later White started practicing with Volkmann, his future varsity coach, who was his teacher at Mona Shores Middle School.

‘I had him as a middle school student and in a golf camp at the country club,” Volkmann said. “We went out a few times and played. I formed a strong relationship with him during those years. He was a strong kid, very athletic, with good hand to eye coordination. I could see there was something there.”

White also started playing golf with older boys, including Reed Hyrenewich, Andrew VanAelst and Joel Maire, who were just starting their varsity careers when White was in middle school.

“I really wanted to be like them,” White said.  “That made me practice the hardest I’ve ever practiced.”

A few years later White found himself playing varsity as a freshman, behind Hyrenewich, VanAelst and Maire. And he soon learned that excellence at the state level is the expectation in the Mona Shores program.

The team finished third at the Division 1 state tournament in White’s freshman and sophomore years. The three upperclassmen all earned All-State recognition last season.

When they moved on last spring, White moved up in a hurry. And he’s been playing like a No. 1 golfer is expected to play.

So how did he make the jump so successfully?

For one thing, he’s no stranger to success. While White was limited to the fourth spot on his school team for two years, he was developing as a standout away from the prep scene.

He won the Michigan State Junior Golf Championship tournament last summer, and the Optimist International Junior Golf Championship’s Michigan event in 2012. The latter allowed him to play in a junior international tournament in Florida.

White and his teammates also had the benefit of a great golf workout room at Mona Shores High School, which allows them to develop different aspects of their game during the offseason.

But mostly he said it was å matter of conviction; with the star seniors gone, it was time to lead.

“Me and (fellow junior and No. 2 Sailor) Glen Kastelic knew we kind of had to take the lead this year,” White said. “This year it was our responsibility to get low numbers. Plus I didn’t shoot very well last summer, and that motivated me to work harder over the winter.”

Volkmann said White has been a good golfer all along, with a powerful long game and a rapidly developing short game, so he didn’t have to improve a great deal to fit into the top spot.

“I know Mitch’s scores aren’t where he wants them yet, but the best is yet to come for him,” Volkmann said.

Could it come this season, at regionals or state?

“He’s the type of kid who puts his team above himself, but when he’s playing well he’s as good as anybody,” Volkmann said. “I think he could win the state finals. Those are my words as his coach. I have a lot of faith in his ability. He’s played with some of the best players in the state.

“He would have to play very well, but it’s something he could accomplish.”