Grizzly golf overcomes all odds for first state title

Members of the Fruitland golf team pose for a photo with the 3A state championship banner after the state tournament on May 13. The championship is the first in school history.

Last spring, the Fruitland golf team looked poised to bring home the school’s first state team title after finishing the first day with 322 strokes and sitting pretty in first place.

But on the second day, the Grizzlies struggled, Jake O’Neil leapfrogged teammate Jonas Bicknese for the state crown, but the Grizzlies also saw themselves passed by Kellogg. The second-place trophy hurt as the Grizzlies knew they could have done more.

“After last year, last year was tough. It was a tough bus ride back,” Bicknese said. “So this year we wanted to go in and just dominate. We wanted everyone to see that we are for real.”

And that’s just what they did at the 2019 3A State Tournament at Canyon Springs Golf Course in Twin Falls.

The Grizzlies crushed the competition at the state tournament, finishing with a combined 53-over, 629 team score and Fruitland High School’s first team state championship in boys golf. Kimberly finished second with 696.

Bicknese and teammate Lucas Rynearson tied for second place shooting seven-over, 151. O’Neil finished tied for fourth with 10-over, 154 and Anthony Vincent took 12th with 29-over, 173. The Grizzlies’ fifth member, Tyler Teetzen, finished tied for 28th with 47-over, 191 (only the top four scores count).

O’Neil with a

historic close

With his fourth-place finish, O’Neil’s prep career has come to a close. The future Boise State golfer has done pretty much everything one can do in high school golf, he finished in the top 10 all four years of high school and won the individual state championship last season.

Two years ago, O’Neil and Vincent both said the thought of bringing home a state championship was a pipe dream. In 2017, the Grizzlies consisted of O’Neil, Vincent and Tyler Teetzen (you need four golfers to get a team score).

“It’s crazy to see where we came from,” O’Neil said. “Me and Anthony on that team two years ago and it seemed like we just wanted someone who could hit the ball. Now we’re winning state titles. It’s crazy what we’ve gone through and who we’ve picked up.”

Vincent said the Grizzlies were actively working to recruit whoever they could find just so they could get a team score.

“We didn’t even think we were going to have a team,” Vincent said. “I was able to talk my best friend, DaPri Weatherall, into coming out to the course and playing. He wasn’t a big fan of golf, but he did do it. And I was glad he did it.

“It was not a possibility at all. It’s strange. Freshman year, we didn’t even have a chance to go to state. And then this year to win by sixty-seven, it’s a very big change. It’s been an awesome journey.”

Rynearson, a sophomore and the youngest member of the team, said it’s been a blast getting to work with a few of 3A’s top golfers the past couple of years.

“It’s been fun,” Rynearson said. “With Jake and Jonas, there was always, like, a good competitive mindset that we have. We’re always trying to get the better of each other and improve.”

Bicknese, who is a home-schooled senior, said him not being a student at the school has never been a problem with team chemistry as all of the Grizzlies have been playing together for years.

“I’ve always been close to Jake, since probably kindergarten,” Bicknese said. “Me and Anthony have been close forever, too. And Lucas, I met right before he started playing and I started playing my junior year, we met on the golf course, actually. We had already played a lot of rounds against each other.”

The career that

almost wasn’t

With all four scorers being so important in golf, the Grizzlies got a big boost in 2019 by Vincent’s return. Vincent, a junior, missed the entire 2018 season after suffering a serious knee injury during a basketball practice two years ago.

Two weeks before his first basketball game as a freshman, Vincent jumped for a rebound in practice. When he landed, his right kneecap popped out of place and he broke off some of the bone and cartilage. He also tore tendons and ligaments. Over the next two years, Vincent would go on to have six surgeries to fix his knee problems and his knee bears multiple scars as the receipt.

“A lot of things went wrong in there,” Vincent said. “... It was one of those things where I wished it could have been an ACL, because they can actually fix that. With this, it’s such a rare thing that it was kind of hard for them to be able to fix it.”

From November 2016 to this spring, Vincent has undergone periods where he wasn’t even able to walk due to both the injury and ensuing surgeries. Going into the season, Fruitland coach Willie Lake said he wasn’t sure if Vincent was going to be able to walk even a nine-hole course.

At the state tournament’s practice round, Vincent was carted to each hole to save his leg.

“A month before the golf season started, we weren’t sure if I was going to even be able to walk,” Vincent said. “But we got a minor surgery, and we got a knee scope. And I worked really, really hard to get to where I am today. I was able to do it. It feels so amazing to do it.”

Vincent said that coming back to golf, which is a sport based on muscle memory, was a long road.

“It was a very big challenge, but through Tri-City Physical Therapy and my physical therapist there has been really good to me these past two years and we were able to work my knee to get it to be strong enough. My biggest concern was in getting those muscles, since golf is such a muscle memory sport, trying to get those muscles strengthened enough to where I can get back on the course. It was a very big challenge, but it also made me who I am today.”

And for Vincent, the state championship was a great affirmation that it was all worth it.

“This year, to win my first ever state championship. It was amazing,” he said.

O’Neil said the Grizzlies struggled in Vincent’s year off and he was overjoyed to have him back this spring.

“It sucked last year without him,” O’Neil said. “It was definitely bad for our team. We definitely would have won state last year if we would have had him, too… I’m really proud of him and how he’s worked through everything. We’re really close and I think we’ll be lifetime friends just from these experiences we’ve had on the golf team.”

Vincent wasn’t the only one on the golf team to go through injury scares in the leadup to this spring. O’Neil missed the entirety of the basketball preseason after suffering a leg injury in October during an open gym.

Rynearson had to get multiple stitches on his right hand after a practice during spring break. On a swing, Rynearson’s club broke and cut his hand right on top of his index finger. He said it wasn’t too serious and he was fine by the time districts came around.

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