Simonich easing into summer schedule before Pine to Palm defense
Incoming North Dakota State University freshman is looking to become the first repeat champion at Detroit Country Club in four decades.
Defending Pine to Palm champion Ian Simonich of Moorhead became the second youngest tournament winner in 88 years of competition and holds that victory as the highlight of the last year that included a stellar senior season for the Spuds and a top 10 state tournament finish.
“It definitely ranks number one,” Simonich said. It definitely sunk in and even this last high school season and how hard it is to win an actual golf tournament. How grueling that whole week is and those last two days are 36-holes per day. The more I think about it, I was on that week. I didn’t think about anything else other than golf. I was just playing to play and I just had it that week. It’s pretty cool to think about. In the moment, I kind of took for granted how hard it is to win a tournament, especially one like that. It’s good to know I can do it and I know it’s not going to come easy every time I tee it up. You have to grind for top 10 finishes and wins every week. Looking back at it, that’s what I took away.”
Repeating at the Pine to Palm is not a common occurrence. Simonich is quite aware of the difficulty and talking about it is a feat in itself.
“That’s a really bold statement,” he said. “I hope I have my best that week. You need a lot of breaks to happen over the 100+ holes you play.”
Bill Israelson is the last repeat champion, more than four decades ago 1976-77. Bill’s son Andrew, the 2019 champion, made it to last year’s semifinals before losing to Simonich.
The last two days at the Pine are grueling for the finalists playing 72 holes in 48 hours. Finding time for even a short rest between those rounds was key to Simonich’s victory.
“I got a couple good tips: in between matches take a nap and change clothes,” Simonich said. “I took a shower and got refreshed. That was huge going into the last round and I was able to grind it out.”
Simonich finished his victory over former Bison and Concordia golfer and fellow Moorhead native Pat Deitz on the 16th green at Detroit Country Club and the reaction to the win was as much relief as it was triumph.
“I can remember my celebration was just taking a big breath,” he said.
The victory kicked off a senior season at Moorhead with Simonich finding the top of the leaderboard consistently. His game was steady all season leading the Spuds to a runner-up finish in Section 8AAA by one stroke to Alexandria. Individually, he qualified for state as the 8AAA runner-up, finishing three strokes back of Alexandria’s Braden Sladek.
His high round of the entire high school season was a 74.
“I shot that twice, everything else was par or better,” Simonich said. “It was really special. It was a bummer we couldn’t get to state as a team. We had a really good season; probably the best team I’ve been a part of, especially with my brother on the team and a couple younger guys I’ve always known growing up. I was really anxious to see how we would be, especially after the two-year break. We won a couple tournaments and I played well individually. I did pretty much what I wanted to do coming off the winter.”
Minnesota Class AAA golf was highly competitive this year with the best golfer in the state needing double figures under par to capture the state title.
Simonich was under par at the state tournament at Bunker Hills in Coon Rapids, but the top of the leaderboard was a difficult place to move up.
“To grind out a 70-71 and finish seventh at 3-under par just shows you how great golf is in Minnesota, especially at the AAA level,” Simonich said.
Northfield’s Nate Stevens claimed a two-stroke victory shooting a blistering 10-under 134. The entire top 10 shot at par or better with a 10-stroke difference from top to bottom.
“It was fun to play in a group like that, but not when you’re not making any putts and you’re watching Ian Meyer (runner-up, Minnetonka) drain 20-footers for birdie every hole,” said Simonich. “I wasn’t hitting it as well the last two weeks of the season; I was getting by. I felt like I didn’t play my best at sections. At the state tournament, I just grinded it out. I missed four greens over 36 holes, but the putter just let me down, which is very unusual. I just didn’t get anything to fall, which was frustrating.”
Simonich is going into this summer’s schedule with a limited number of tournaments in focus with his eye on being able to contribute his freshman year at NDSU.
“I’m kind of tapping the brakes a little bit just to be more prepared for the upcoming fall golf season,” he said. “I don’t want to be too burned out. My schedule is pretty laid back.”
A few of the bigger tournaments he is playing are the Minnesota State Am, Pine to Palm, a U.S. Amateur qualifier and the Bobcat North Dakota Open.
The Pine to Palm has been dominated by Bison golfers the last few seasons.
“The Bison kind of took over the past few years with Nate Adams and Andrew Israelson in the final (2019) and obviously, me, Lucas Johnson was medalist last year,” said Simonich. “It’s really good to see our team is in a good place. It’s going to be really fun to get to school and hopefully, I can help right away and contribute to the team.”
Simonich got used to playing with a target on his back during the Spuds run this spring and will certainly have players gunning for him this August in Detroit Lakes.
“It’s going to be a little different this year as the one-seed,” he said. “I can’t really think about that. I just have to play my best, tee up and kind of play like the underdog. I embrace that role. That’s what I told myself last year when I was playing Andrew. Here goes nothing. You just have to play and see what happens. It’ll be different with a target on my back, but you’re playing the golf course and the person too, but the course more.”
Former Bison golfer Connor Holland is the youngest player to win the Pine to Palm at 16-years of age in 2011. Simonich was 17 at last year’s tournament.
This year’s Pine to Palm is scheduled for August 9-15.