By Tom Spencer
Special for Second Half
Golf etiquette dictates that golfers should always yell "fore" upon hitting a shot that carries the risk of hitting another golfer. As long as one yells "fore," the golfer did all she or he could to warn the other golfers.
Golfers also are supposed to convey this message to others in as polite a manner as possible.
“Four” though is the polite warning golfers should heed as they participate in the Division 4 golf championship at Michigan State University’s Forest Akers West on Oct. 17.
The school record-holder from Harbor Springs is not likely to exclaim “four” – but she is looking to at least claim “four” — as in consecutive MHSAA Finals championships.
Jacque O’Neill won the individual title last fall as a junior. She’ll be looking to repeat that feat as well as help the Rams win a third team championship in four seasons after they finished Division 4 runners-up in 2019. O’Neill, now a senior, was a freshman on the 2017 Division 4 champion Harbor team and a sophomore on the 2018 championship squad.
Shouting the word “fore” once usually suffices, although it's acceptable to shout it repeatedly if the shot is sailing toward another group of golfers.
No one would blame O’Neill is she shouted four repeatedly.
But be clear. O’Neill isn’t sounding this warning. Her golfing is.
In addition to seeking a fourth straight team or individual Finals championship, she is likely to be selected to the Division 4 all-state team for a fourth-straight year. She is coming off a third-straight Regional individual championship.
Her hopes for a team title this October lie in four as well. Harbor has a pretty good idea whom of its golfers will fill the top three scoring spots. The fourth will go to one of the newer players. The fourth may make the difference as the Regional champions seek another Finals championship.
“My goal is certainly to win another state championship, but I wouldn’t say that I feel a lot of pressure,” O’Neill said. “I’m just looking at it as another chance to show my ability, and hopefully break my new record.
“Any nerves I feel after that usually changes to excitement, and it is one of my favorite feelings.”
O’Neill put her name in history books this fall. She shot a school-record 73 at the Cheboygan Country Club.
“She works for everything,” said her coach Pete Kelbel. “She practices all the time.
“If she plays a round and her putting his bad, guess where she is practicing ... on the putting green.”
Kelbel is taking the Rams to their eighth-straight Finals. He’s won two titles with his record-setting senior’s older sister, Calli O’Neill. Calli, now on the golf team at Aquinas College, and Jacque have benefited from strong family support and three golf professionals, one of whom is especially closely tied.
Brian O’Neal, the girls’ father, is a golf pro. He was once named to Golf Digest’s “Best Teachers” list in Michigan. Jacque has received guidance from another golf pro, Shaun Bezilla, Harbor Point’s head golf professional and director of instruction. And, her high school coach, Kelbel, is a golf pro at Walloon Lake Country Club.
“I want to express my extreme gratitude for being a part of such an amazing program with such great teammates,” the younger O’Neill said. “Being on the golf team these past four years has been one of the greatest experiences of my life, and I am very excited about my next chapter. But it is very hard to say goodbye to this one.
“I have met so many amazing people, and I have such great memories,” she continued. “So thank you to everyone who has made this journey so great. I also want to thank Shaun Bezilla for helping me get my game to where it is today along with Pete Kelbel for all of his help in making me the player that I am today. As well as everyone at Boyne Highlands for their support. I would not be where I am today without the help from these people and many more.”
As she prepares for another Final, she is focused on all the family support she receives.
“Calli was one of my teammates in the past, and she has always pushed me to work harder and practice more,” Jacque noted. “She has definitely helped me fall in love with the game of golf because it is something that we love to do together.
“My dad has helped me develop my game throughout the years and pushed me to work harder,” she went on. “My mom, Connie, is my biggest supporter and comes to all my matches. She is always encouraging me. Having a family that all loves golf certainly helps! My extended family has also always encouraged me and helped me along the way, which means the world to me.”
Harbor Springs athletic director Anna Rigby is proud of the golf program’s history. She is looking for another good result at this month’s Finals.
“I've developed an incredible sense of pride watching the program be so successful year after year,” she said. “For Jacque to consistently achieve that level of success in a sport like golf speaks volumes to her fortitude and commitment to the game.
“I'm feeling good about what we'll see from her in the Finals again this year.”
Kelbel has his own “fore” warning for everyone. Although it is really more of a fact of the matter.
“Jacque can’t get enough golf,” he said. “She has kept growing and getting stronger throughout the year and improved her strength as swimmer.
“She’d play if you tied her up like a mummy,” he continued. “She just deals with it and she wants to shoot a school record every time she plays.”
Tom Spencer is a longtime MHSAA-registered basketball and soccer official, and former softball and baseball official, and he also has coached in the northern Lower Peninsula area. He previously has written for the Saginaw News, Bay County Sports Page and Midland Daily News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org with story ideas for Manistee, Wexford, Missaukee, Roscommon, Ogemaw, Iosco, Alcona, Oscoda, Crawford, Kalkaska, Grand Traverse, Benzie, Leelanau, Antrim, Otsego, Montmorency, Alpena, Presque Isle, Cheboygan, Charlevoix and Emmet counties.
PHOTO: Harbor Springs’ Jacque O’Neill fires an approach during the 2019 Lower Peninsula Division 4 Final at Battle Creek’s Bedford Valley. (Click to see more from HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)
ROCKFORD – The Rockford girls golf team witnessed first-hand at last year’s MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 1 Final the type of scores it would take to compete for top honors in the state.
The Rams finished a laudable eighth at last year’s championship tournament, but their two-day total of 697 (338-359) put them well behind champion Northville, which posted team scores of 307 and 308 to claim a fourth-straight Finals title by 12 strokes.
Rockford entered this season with aspirations to close the gap, and it has done just that with a talented quartet of experienced golfers.
“Our top four are better than we've had in the past,” Rams girls golf coach Scott Kruisenga said. “Maybe we’re not quite as deep, but the potential for all four of these girls to be in the 70s is pretty exciting.
“We’ve been seeing those scores by Northville, and Rochester Adams and Saline, and that's some darn good golf.
“The girls last year saw some of the scores that needed to take place in order to have a shot at a state championship, and they really took it serious over the summer. They played a lot of tournament golf, and they want it and they believe they can do it.”
The extra preparation and enhanced desire has been evident with low scores and first-place finishes.
The Rams have rolled through the Ottawa-Kent Conference Red thus far with the league tournament looming next week.
A new school record was established as well when Rockford won the Kent County Classic with an impressive 306.
“We’ve played well, and it’s been fun getting to know everyone the last three years,” said junior Jessica Jolly, the team’s No. 1 golfer.
“Everyone is capable of shooting low, so when we can do our best on the same day it’s fun, and we’ve broken the school record multiple times in the past few years.”
Jolly is joined in the top four by seniors Mackenzie Davidson and Bridget Parlmer and junior Aubrey Wilson.
In addition to the Kent Country Classic, Rockford also won the O-K Red Midseason Tournament, the Sydney Carfine Memorial Tournament and the Greenville Invitational.
The Rams took second behind state powerhouse Brighton at the 36-hole Lober Classic at Crystal Mountain to open the season.
“They have really been playing up to their ability and been playing lights out,” Kruisenga said. “They’ve put a lot of hard work in, and I’ve had all four since they were freshmen so it’s been fun to see how they’ve been improving year by year.
“That has been the most exciting thing, seeing the improvement and dedication they are putting into get better.”
While the team had high expectations entering the season, Kruisenga said they have already exceeded his.
“I was thinking even if we stay the same as last year we would be a good team,” he said, “but everyone is playing better.”
Jolly has been the catalyst and broke her own school record earlier this season with a superb 67 at Quail Ridge Golf Course.
She tied for ninth at the LPD1 Final as a freshman, when Rockford finished fifth as a team, and just missed the individual top 10 last season.
“I’m pretty happy with how I’ve played, and I’ve definitely seen my average drop to the lowest it’s been since I’ve been in high school.” Jolly said. “Most of my rounds have been under par, and it’s been fun to make some birdies and get a chance at shooting pretty low.”
After struggling on the second day of last year’s Final, Kruisenga said the success his team had at the 36-hole event earlier this season should bode well for the future.
“We did that intentionally to try and get used to that back-to-back,” he said. “The girls fared really well. We lost by three or four strokes to Brighton, and we were tied going into the second day. They kept a good mental game and limited their mistakes.”
The Rams are anxious for the postseason, but refuse to take anything for granted. They want to finish the conference season strong before setting their sights on a Finals berth.
“Our first goal would be to win the postseason tournament, and then we hope to do well at Regionals and qualify for state,” Jolly said. “If we do, then we’re looking to perform well there and give ourselves a chance.”
Dean Holzwarth has covered primarily high school sports for Grand Rapids-based WOOD-TV for five years after serving at the Grand Rapids Press and MLive for 16 years along with shorter stints at the Ionia Sentinel and WZZM. Contact him at email@example.com with story ideas for Allegan, Kent and Ottawa counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Rockford’s Jessica Jolly powers through a drive during last season’s LPD1 Final. (Middle) Aubrey Wilson putts off the rough during the Final at The Meadows at Grand Valley State University. (Click for more from High School Sports Scene.)