MOORHEAD — Moorhead boys golf coach Eric Tollefson wishes he could bottle and sell Ian Simonich’s talent on the golf course.
The senior golfer made a rapid ascent from being a player the coach identified as a potential future standout as a middle schooler to a tournament winner now.
“I could sell it for a lot,” Tollefson said. “Other players have been really, really good players for me. They’ve been as committed as Ian, practiced as hard as Ian does. All of the quantifiable things you can look at and say, ‘This is going to help improve this player and make him more competitive,’ they were doing, too. That’s why they were good. And Ian is probably the one single player who has made more dramatic improvement more quickly than any of the other high-level players I’ve had.”
Simonich exploded onto the scene as a sophomore, winning the Class 3A, Section 8 tournament and finishing 16th at the state tournament. He went on to win the 2019 Minnesota Golf Association Junior Boys Championship that summer after his sophomore year and be named the MJGA co-player of the year.
This past summer, he won the Pine to Palm Tournament at Detroit Country Club in Detroit Lakes and finished third at the junior boys championships.
Now, after having his junior high school season wiped out by the COVID-19 pandemic, Simonich is gearing up for his senior season. He has his sights set on a return to the state tournament for himself and for the Spuds.
Moorhead has a young team after losing a number of seniors from last year’s squad. Among those young players is Simonich’s brother, Joey, whom he said he's excited to get to play with this season.
“It’s really special to be back now, especially for my senior year,” Simonich said. “Last year sucked because we had a good chance. We had some seniors that had played a lot of golf and were playing pretty well. It was heartbreaking for them not to get their senior season to play and try to compete for a section championship. Hopefully it makes everything a little more special this year.”
Tollefson noticed in the spring before Simonich’s sophomore year that something was different. He had been a good player as a freshman, but it looked like his game had improved dramatically.
North Dakota State men’s golf coach Steve Kennedy stopped by a practice that spring and asked the Moorhead coach if he had any players he should take a look at. Tollefson pointed out Simonich, before he went on to win the section championship and later the junior championship that spring and summer.
“I pointed Ian’s way and said, ‘Well, this player is showing a lot of potential right now and maybe you want to put him on your radar,’” Tollefson said. “Little did I know when I was telling Steve that in the early point of his sophomore year that he was going to go on a tear.
“I’d love to say that I knew all that was going to happen when I was telling Steve to keep an eye on Ian, but that would probably not be truthful.”
Simonich got onto Kennedy's radar and earned himself an opportunity to play Division I golf. He is committed to play for the Bison in college. He said he made it his goal to play college golf in the summer between eighth and ninth grade. Now he’s set to become teammates with a pair of players he beat out to win the 2019 junior boys state championship. Bison golfers Nate Adams and Brock Winter finished second and third in that tournament.
“I really like the way (Kennedy) coaches and what he brings to the table,” Simonich said. “I love that they just won two tournaments in a row going into the Summit League championship. They’re a good program and you’ve got chances to win there. The guys are really nice and I’ve played with most of them. It’s just a close-knit group of guys and a great culture to be a part of.”
Last summer, Simonich had a shot to become the first player to win back-to-back junior boys championships since Bill Israelson in 1973-74. Israelson’s son Andrew Israelson played golf at NDSU from 2017-20 and is now a volunteer assistant coach for the Bison. Simonich beat the younger Israelson to win the Pine to Palm last summer after losing to him in the quarterfinal in 2019.
Simonich said the short game is his greatest strength and the thing he enjoys working on the most. He says keeping up with his long game is important, but he thinks that the short game is where he is able to gain the greatest advantage on his opposition.
“When I won the junior boys I didn’t hit a green the whole back nine,” Simonich said. “I ended up scraping it around and scrambling and making a couple pars and birdies.
“It’s fun to mess with different shots and work on your putting. I love to hit chip shots and try to spring the ball. I really enjoy working on that and it’s something I really enjoy. Especially in the high school game, you’re picking up a lot of points against the field close to the green.”