Ontiveros had one more fun time with Missouri Military Academy family at state golf

By Jeremy Jacob, Sports Editor
Posted 5/23/24

Gabriel Ontiveros wasn’t completely convinced he was returning to state this year.

The Missouri Military Academy senior finished 20th a year ago in the Class 2 state tournament and bounced …

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Ontiveros had one more fun time with Missouri Military Academy family at state golf


Gabriel Ontiveros wasn’t completely convinced he was returning to state this year.

The Missouri Military Academy senior finished 20th a year ago in the Class 2 state tournament and bounced back after a rough Day 1 in this year’s tournament on May 13-14 at Paradise Pointe in Smithville to finish in a tie of 76th. Ontiveros took 11 strokes off his Day 1 score with a second-day 92. 

It was clear to the Monterrey, Mexico, native Ontiveros that his MMA family, consisting mainly of head coach Anthony Yannielli, wanted him to go to state. Ultimately, he was able to make himself and Yannielli proud by playing last week.

“I knew it meant a lot for my coach for me to go to state,” Ontiveros said. “I wasn’t really convinced I was going, but when I saw he put his trust in me on going and believing that I was going to qualify, that helped a lot for me to do my best at districts so I could qualify for state.”

By convincing, Ontiveros said he didn’t mind whether he went to state this year but became more important to him as the year went on. He tied for eighth place in MMA’s district in Hannibal by shooting an 82, or 10-over par. 

Practicing golf as much as possible without long layoffs is important, Yannielli said, as many aspects of the game are not like riding a bike. Ontiveros agreed that the physical elements need consistent attention but also the mental.

“You’ve got to be concentrated that day,” Ontiveros said. “If your head is somewhere else, the game goes down. That’s what all golfers struggle with. In the real moment whenever you are like playing with your buddies or stuff like that when it’s not important, you do good. Once it gets to a real thing, you get worse and get into your head.”

Yannielli and Ontiveros said weather didn’t play as much of a factor despite rain falling on Day 1 — this following “perfect” weather the day before during the practice round — as the greens didn’t slow down. Besides, MMA grew accustomed to playing in rainy conditions this season.

However, the two said what was different and took some adjusting to was the crowd around Ontiveros, who was playing with some of the higher-seeded players that attracted a bigger crowd of about 30 people. After a below-average Day 1, Ontiveros was moved to one of the earlier, upbeat groups and kept in mind Day 2 would be his final round of golf at MMA.

“That first day, I put a lot of pressure on myself,” Ontiveros said. “The whole season, I was just playing to have fun, but this time, it was an actual pressure. I was with one of the good groups so there were plenty of people watching. It got in my head a little bit.”

“Districts and states are a completely different animal to compare to,” Yannielli said. “Going to play nine in one of our competitions or playing in one of the 18-hole tournaments, yeah there is a  trophy and medals at the end, but it’s not the same as districts and state.”

Yannielli said he knows the approach with coaching Ontiveros to leave him be whenever he is struggling because he is capable of working through it himself. During that first day, he said Ontiveros seemed “tight” so he emphasized to him on Day 2 to have fun and the interaction between coach and player was more common.

The difference was big as Yannielli said Ontiveros was more “loose,” which in turn irons out anything wrong with a shot like elbow positioning and the movement of the feet and head. Yannielli said Ontiveros fixed the issues with his head movement but also the issues concerning the thoughts moving around in his head, allowing him to move up 30 spots at one point. Ontiveros ultimately jumped up nine places from Day 1.

“At this point, with him being a senior, the focus was yeah we want you to medal, but go out and have fun and create memories that are something that’s going to last for the rest of your life,” Yannielli said. “It was more about having fun (on Day 2) and bringing back the love of the game of golf because it is a very love/hate relationship.”

Ontiveros appreciates that Yannielli helped keep the mood light and told jokes to raise his spirits, making the trip feel like a family vacation. Yannielli brought his blood family with him as well so Ontiveros had the support from what he considers to be his second family. 

Yannielli said MMA brings the uncertainty of how long a cadet stays with the program and school, and that he feels fortunate to have had Ontiveros for three years. For the first time, Yanielli had a kid that came in as a “scrawny, little” sophomore and developed into a back-to-back state golfer and “amazing young man.”

“I spent all day (on Day 2) calling him mijo because he’s my son,” Yannielli said. “With my wife, we’re his American family. It’s a proud parent moment to think back where it began and how it ended.” 

Yannielli admitted that to just encourage kids to have fun might not be typical instruction from a coach but considering it was Ontiveros’ final round on a nice Missouri golf course, he wanted the best for his son. Ontiveros said Paradise Pointe is a golf course where it is important to play the fairways to avoid all of the water and sand hazards, but neither of the pair didn’t mind when Ontiveros took some more risks on Day 2. 

Ontiveros said his father back home has told him that “every golf course is easy if you stay in the fairway,” and that was the case for much of the second day, except for one hole where his ball landed in the water. He said he will miss his golf father and the rest of his MMA family.

“Being on the golf team gives you a chance to breathe with everything that goes on in school,” Ontiveros said. “It’s a tough environment sometimes because they’re really strict. Being on the golf team gives you breathing room, you have fun and have a good time, and it’s a great environment with the team. The coach makes it be like that. It’s a great privilege to be able to stay on the team, to play and to go to matches. Every match, we have a different memory or great moments.”

State this past week was at the top of Ontiveros’ fondest memories at MMA during his “mini vacation” before graduating to study business in college back in his home country of Mexico. Yannielli said he tries to make the team as “close-knit” as possible as if it were a family in that it properly balances work and play.

“My wife and kids were with us,” Yannielli said. “(MMA golfers) are my adopted sons so it felt like a family vacation just centered around golf, which is my kind of vacation. They may have great memories, but these are memories that will last with me for the rest of my life as well. I hope I made a great impact on them, but they do the same to me.”