Ontiveros represents MMA family at state golf meet

By Jeremy Jacob, Sports Editor
Posted 5/20/23

Gabriel Ontiveros made his family proud on Monday and Tuesday.

The Missouri Military Academy junior played in the Class 2 state golf tournament at Rivercut Golf Course, much to the delight of …

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Ontiveros represents MMA family at state golf meet


Gabriel Ontiveros made his family proud on Monday and Tuesday.

The Missouri Military Academy junior played in the Class 2 state golf tournament at Rivercut Golf Course, much to the delight of his family back home in Monterey, Mexico, and his family at MMA in Mexico, Missouri.

Ontiveros missed the all-state cut of the top 15 scores but finished 20th out of about 80 golfers after shooting a 171, or 27-over par, over two days and beating his Day 1 score by a stroke with an 85. Being there with the people he cares for like his teammates and head coach Anthony Yannielli made his first state berth even more memorable.

“We got the privilege of taking the team so it got us all more together,” Ontiveros said. “They were of great support. Hopefully, we’ll take the whole team next time.”

Yannielli said he knew Ontiveros was going through some difficulties related to the weather. Ontiveros said he has a course similar to Rivercut at home between mountains, hence many differences in elevation and gradients but not being able to practice on Sunday due to wet course conditions and then dealing with some during play Tuesday affected him. Yannielli was happy to see Ontiveros deal with the obstacles on top of the pressure. 

“He did amazing,” Yannielli said. “I watched him nail a 30-foot birdie putt, and the excitement of not just me but him and the rest of the team that got to go and watch (was noticeable). He’ll look back on those holes he didn't do well on, and we’ll improve on those. I couldn’t be any prouder of how played, and he’s like a son to me so I feel a part of this accomplishment that he feels.”

Ontiveros is a golfer, as well as many other cadets on the team, that doesn’t need much attention as Yannielli said they know what they are doing much of the time because of additional work they have at home. Since the age of 15, Ontiveros said he has been playing golf and even has a professional swing coach hired by his parents. 

Knowing this, Yannielli said he coordinates with the coach so he knows what to watch for but doesn’t mess with his swing. The relationship involves bouncing ideas off each other and making sure he is healthy mentally for any given situation.

“I just need to make sure I pick his brain,” Yannielli said. “We joke around on the course to keep him loose and playing. That’s how we work. I would say nine out of 10 times, he would tell me what he was going to do and he did it.”

Having that support is valuable for Ontiveros as he had to adjust several things from the first to the second day. He said he had to figure out his tee-offs and what clubs to use to try to land in favorable spots because the course had difficult placings of rough and trees and also become accustomed to not using his “flopshot,” which Yanielli calls his “bread and butter.”

Yanielli said Ontiveros is able to place the ball within a couple feet or inches of the green or about 3-6 feet from the hole from 20 yards out using a backspin method that sticks the ball to the ground whenever it lands. Ontiveros said he needs to be under the ball and cut through grass to execute the shot, but his club was getting stuck in the wet grass so it was off the table. Something that stuck on top of the table was Ontiveros’ family and who he calls his “American parents” in Yannielli and his wife to help him through the biggest tournament of his career.

“The first hole, when they called out my name to tee off, it was those nerves of ‘Don’t screw up. Don’t screw up,’” Ontiveros said. “I worked a lot on my mental game of keeping my head straight and not getting frustrated after a bad shot. You struggle, but I think that’s part of placing good, keeping my head straight and just concentrating.”

Yannielli said he hopes Ontiveros’ teammates that watched him were jealous that they didn’t earn the right to play at state so they’re motivated to all qualify next year. He said that is very much possible as the team returns four varsity golfers following a season the Colonels “shattered” expectations by finishing higher and even winning tournaments where the program has finished 10th or 11th.

“The sky is the limit” next season for MMA golf, Yannielli said, as those returning next year have committed to practicing over the summer and a simulator — that shares statistics about golfers’ swings on any course in the world — that was recently donated to the program makes it so the team can practice during the days that Missouri weather doesn’t cooperate. All of this extra commitment is necessary for the pride to shine through like it did for Ontiveros this past week.

“The Elsberry tournament, when we started bringing in scores, there were some tears just for how proud I am, and the plaque is sitting right there (in Yannielli’s room),” Yannielli said. “We took first place, and it was absolutely phenomenal to see the excitement in the boys and me. We actually have something special.”