OWATONNA, Minn. – Walking to the 18th tee Tuesday, Ian Simonich figured he needed birdie on his 36th hole to win his second championship of the season. Simonich’s tee shot at the 177-yard par-3 nearly bounced in the hole, spinning to a stop six inches from the cup, leaving a tap-in birdie as Simonich claimed a one-stroke victory while leading his foursome to the team title at the 59th Minnesota Golf Association Junior Team Championship at Owatonna Country Club.
Carding an even par 71 Monday to begin the championship, Simonich entered the final round four shots off Carter Doose’s lead and erased the deficit with a string of birdies mid-round before claiming the championship on the final hole in spectacular fashion. Carter is the son of Brandon High School graduate Neil Doose.
“I knew I wanted to shoot low and make [18-hole leader Carter Doose] shoot under par,” Simonich said following his win Tuesday. “After seeing the course once yesterday, I knew that the greens were pretty soft and you can putt fairly well on them and make a lot of birdies. My plan was to make him shoot under par to beat me.”
In a similar pressure situation early last month at the Minnesota State Junior Boys’ Championship at Pioneer Creek Golf Club, Simonich needed to hole his par putt from six feet to earn his first career state championship victory. His putt found the bottom of the cup to earn a one-stroke victory over both Nate Adams and Brock Winter.
“This is a little different from the [Minnesota State Junior Boys’], the field isn’t as big, but there are some really good players and I knew I had to play well,” he said. “Hitting that last shot felt really good.”
Playing his front nine at even par Tuesday, Simonich quickly gained momentum following his birdie at the 10th before sticking his tee shot at the par-3 11th to two inches. A two-putt birdie at the 12th would put him at 3-under for the tournament. Unable to save par at the 15th, Simonch fell back to 2-under before his tap-in birdie on the final hole to edge Gavin Cronkhite by one shot at 3-under 139.
“I wasn’t even supposed to play in this tournament until their teammate from last year backed out. They asked me to play and I jumped on the opportunity,” Simonich said. “I’ve never seen the course before, but was pretty happy with my round yesterday.
“This format isn’t that different. I’ve played [varsity golf at Moorhead High School] for three years, but playing with your teammate is really comforting. If you’re playing well, you can feed off each other. These guys are all from [Section 8AAA], so we’ve got a pretty good section up there.”
Braeden Sladek contributed to the opening-round lead with a round of 73 Monday before carding one birdie with one bogey during the final round Tuesday, finishing the championship in sixth place at 2-over 144 to help secure the team victory.
“I struggled a little bit the first day and didn’t make many putts—grinded a lot and got up-and-down. Today I had my best ball-striking day of the whole year and couldn’t get many putts to drop,” Sladek said Tuesday. “Got one to drop on 18, but had 16 pars all day. It was pretty solid and I gave myself opportunities.
“Last year we came up a couple shots short. This year we all played solid and it means a lot.”
Logan Hamak also fired an even par 71 Tuesday in a winning effort, while Grant Rebrovich rounded out the team scoring by shooting a 7-over 78.
Led by Cronkhite, the defending champion team consisting of John Langlois, Tim Berger and Kaleb Johnson entered the final round four shots off the lead and couldn’t make up any ground Tuesday, combining for a round of 211 to finish five shots back at 433.
The foursome of Mason Roloff, Jake Birdwell, Jack Wellen and Ben Wackman improved by 16 strokes during Tuesday’s final round, posting a combined score of 216 to finish in third place at 22-over 448.