Michigan Amateur champion Joey Garber eager to contribute to Michigan golf team
Courtesy Golf Association of Michigan
The seeds of Joey Garber’s decision to play golf at the University of Michigan in the fall were planted long ago. The Petoskey High School graduate has long been a Michigan fan and got to know the campus when his older brother attended the school.
So when it came time for the 2010 Division 2 state champion and two-time Michigan High School Mr. Golf winner to ink his name on a letter of intent, the Wolverines leapt to the top of the list, and some list it was. Garber talked to dozens of schools, including top golf destinations like Georgia Tech, Texas and Tennessee, and he says the decision wasn’t easy.
“There are schools like Georgia Tech that play on one of the best courses in the world every day (The Golf Club of Georgia), it was hard toward the end,” Garber said after firing an opening-round 69 for a two-stroke lead in his final junior tournament, the Coca-Cola Junior Championship at The Heather at Boyne Highlands. “Still, UM was where I felt I belonged, nothing really clicked like UM. It’s an honor to put on that block “M” and be part of the maize and blue.”
Garber brings an impressive resume with him to Ann Arbor, including becoming the one of the youngest winners of the Michigan Amateur on June 26 at the Oakhurst Golf and Country Club. He’s the top-ranked Michigan golfer in the class of 2010 - 21st nationally - according to the American Junior Golf Association. He’s won four Golf Association of Michigan championships in the last four years. In his final two years at Petoskey, Garber won every event he entered except two regular-season competitions and the 2009 state title. He also played point guard for a Northmen team that lost in overtime in the state quarterfinals this season and spent many years playing on premiere travel soccer teams before golf took the No. 1 spot in his sporting life.
Last summer, he missed qualifying for the match-play round of the U.S. Amateur by four strokes (his future UM teammate Matt Thompson lost in the opening round of match play on the final hole). He’ll attempt to make it back to the oldest golf championship in the country later this summer when qualifying brings him back to the Heather Course at Boyne, his home course.
Garber will be joining a Michigan golf team in the midst of its most successful run since the 1960s. The Wolverines have advanced to the NCAA Regionals the past three years and made it to the final four in 2009. This fall, ninth-year Coach Andrew Sapp’s team returns its top five golfers.
“Early in my career here, we’d lose the good state players to southern schools,” Sapp said of recruiting Garber. “With the way we’ve played at the NCAA level, it shows other good players you don’t need to migrate south to play good golf.”
Garber is the second Mr. Golf winner to commit to the Wolverines after Thompson won it in 2008. Matt Felsenfeld of West Bloomfield, the No. 2 player in the state, joins Michigan in the fall as well.
“Joey has a confidence to him, he goes out and plays like he can beat anybody,” Sapp said. “He’s got great national tournament experience, and the guys on the team had a good time with him on his visit. He has a great personality.”
Things ramp up quickly for NCAA golfers, with the Wolverines’ first tournament in Indiana just four days after classes start. Garber knows that means he needs to be ready to play when he steps on campus.
“The transition from high school to college is huge,” he said. “You can’t wait until you get there to have someone help you out. I lightened my schedule this summer so I could have more time to tune my game. I haven’t had time to do that the last couple summers because I played so many tournaments.”
And if Garber wonders how he’ll fit into an already solid team as a freshman, he only has to look to the lockers around him. Jack Schultz was a unanimous choice for Big Ten Freshman of the year last year and Thompson made the Big Ten Match Play All Tournament Team in 2009.
“I look at what Jack Schultz did last year; that’s a good goal,” Garber said. “But individual goals are miniscule compared to what we want to do as a team. Coach Sapp said there’s a legitimate chance for a Big Ten or maybe national title in the next couple years. The team is playing really well right now, and we have a really bright future. I think it’s going to be really special.”
Phil Lozen covers sports for AnnArbor.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org