Moorhead's Simonich misses out on chance to win a state golf title, play in U.S. Junior Amateur
MOORHEAD — Ian Simonich received a double dose of bad news this week when he learned the U.S. Junior Amateur golf tournament that was to be held at Hazeltine in Minneapolis this summer was canceled. Then he learned Wednesday that there would be no high school golf season in Minnesota.
Simonich, a junior at Moorhead High School, had high hopes of playing in the U.S. Amateur. And he had the lofty goal of winning this spring’s Class 3A individual state championship.
But the ongoing coronavirus pandemic ended all those hopes.
“It was really disappointing because this was the last year I was eligible to play in the U.S. Amateur,” Simonich said. “And winning state, that was a big goal of mine … I knew I could get there.”
Based on Simonich’s breakout year as a sophomore golfer last year, winning state was certainly a realistic goal.
After winning last year’s Class 3A, Section 8 championship, Simonich qualified for his first state tournament where he finished 16th at Bunker Hills in Coon Rapids.
Later that summer, Simonich made an even bigger impression by winning the Minnesota Golf Association’s junior amateur tournament. Then a couple weeks later, he was within two strokes of the leader at the Minnesota men’s amateur tournament before trailing off in the final three holes.
“To be that young in the hunt at the men’s tournament, that’s just crazy,” said Eric Tollefson, the Moorhead boys golf coach for the past 15 years. “The breakout year Ian had last year is something I had never seen before. Those were quantum leaps he took. It sure would’ve been fun to see what he would’ve done this spring.”
Simonich’s sudden success didn’t go unnoticed. He was on the cover of the “Minnesota Golfer” magazine earlier this spring.
“That was a little different,” Simonich said. “We went to a studio in Minneapolis to get the photos taken. They put makeup on me for 30 minutes. It was different but it was a neat experience.”
Simonich, whose father Mike golfed at Concordia, became the second eighth-grader to golf for one of Tollefson’s section tournament teams. The other was Bryant Buckellew, who qualified for a state tournament as an eighth-grader.
At his first state tournament as a sophomore, Simonich felt nervous on the first day and it showed, carding a 78. He settled down and carded the low score of the final day with a 72.
At the junior amateur played at Pioneer Creek in Maple Plain, Minn., Simonich shot some of his best golf ever with scores of 68 and 69 to win the tournament.
“I played a practice round on that course with my dad and brother,” Simonich said. “That helped a lot. I got off to a hot start and kept it going.”
He kept it going a couple weeks later at the state men’s amateur at the Somerby Golf Club in Byron, Minn. He was paired with Sammy Schmitz, who played in the 2016 Masters Tournament, and former Minnesota Senior Open champion Steve Whittaker.
“That was pretty cool,” Simonich said.
And a bit nervewracking. On his first hole, he hit his drive into the fescue. He second shot went into the creek. But he managed to save a par and shot a 71, which he followed with another 71 on the second day.
On the third and final day, he was within two shots of the leader before he finished with three straight bogeys to finish his round with a 73.
“It was really more of a maturity thing,” Simonich said of his breakout season. “I knew I had it in my head to shoot good scores, I just had to learn how to do it.”
Now, because of the COVID-19 outbreak, Simonich will just rely on some practice rounds on his home course at the Moorhead Country Club.
“At least with golf, there is no reason high school players still can’t get better,” said Tollefson, who with Simonich and three seniors had high hopes of qualifying this year’s Spud team for state.
“This was the year we felt we could get to the state as a team,” Simonich said. “It’s disappointing. I feel really bad for the seniors. But at least we’re getting back into the groove playing on grass again. It’s real golf, not on a simulator.
“The bummer of it all, you can practice but can’t play competitively.”