McALLEN — There’s one thing that’s for certain when the McAllen High boys golf team tees off Wednesday at the Republic Golf Club in San Antonio for the first round of the Region IV-6A golf tournament.

They’ll be grinding right from the start. The word is something the team uses on a regular basis to describe everything that makes up the Bulldogs’ two golf teams that will represent District 30-6A this year. In what’s considered a white-collar sport, the Bulldogs clearly bring a blue-collar physical approach to the game – from putting to practicing to tournament play.

“We just keep our heads down and keep grinding,” said Vince Tavarez, one of two seniors on the team and the Bulldogs’ No. 2 golfer behind sophomore Justin Ochoa. “That’s our approach.”

Both McAllen High A and B teams qualified for the regional event, a feat that hasn’t been accomplished in RGV high school golf since 1992 when coach Hector Zamora brought both of his Harlingen boys teams to regional from 1987 to 1992. McHi has competed as good as anyone in the district for the past decade and has advanced in eight of the past 10 years. All eight of those, however, were second-place finishes.

“It’s tough watching our rival school take first,” said Tyler Pena, the No. 3 golfer on the team and only other senior. “We’ve had decent seasons, but not like this. We knew we were good enough and capable to win.”

McAllen High’s Justin Ochoa tees off during practice at the Palmview golf course on Thursday, April 11, 2019, in McAllen. (Joel Martinez | jmartinez@themonitor.com)

Win — they certainly did that. In the district tournament, the “A” team won the district title by 84 strokes over the “B” team. In turn, a talented “B” team defeated third-place McAllen Rowe by 13 strokes.

“We really don’t know if we’re winning or losing during a tournament,” said Ochoa, who finished the season with a 77.71 scoring average in district and won district medalist honors with a two-day 77-76 = 153 score. “More than anything this year I learned that you keep grinding no matter how bad a hole you have. Your round isn’t over until the ball drops in the cup on the final hole.”

It’s a great closing chapter in McAllen High golf as coach Greg Kiger announced his retirement at the beginning of the school year. He has overseen the golf program for 16 years and was the head basketball coach for seven years before that. But whenever asked about his time as the head coach and the success of the program, he diverts the question to the players and the parents.

“We’ve had some great kids go through this program; this group has worked hard. They are good golfers and they have a passion for it,” he said. “I’m happy for them and they deserve to be successful with all the work they have put in.”

Kiger used Tavarez as an example of the hard work. Tavarez shot a team-best 69 this year at the Rio Grande Valley Coaches Association Tournament at Shary Municipal Golf Course. “I was looking back at his first JV tournament as a freshman,” Kiger said. “He shot a 117 (48 strokes higher than his 69 three years later). That’s an indication of how hard he has worked to become a better player. They have all put that time and effort in.”

Kiger added that there’s a lot of competition on the two golf teams, from top to bottom. Zach West sometimes plays the fifth man on the “A” team and sometimes he’s No. 1 on the “B” team. Either way, he knows that his performance can make a difference.

“He’s been battling all year,” Kiger said. “He got onto the first team a couple of tournaments. That’s what daily competition will do for a program.”

When talking about the regional tournament, the golfers and coach alike have a very laid back approach.

“We want to be loose and just perform like we know we can,” said Pena, who began golfing when he was 10 years old. “We never try to go in with expectations or have a number in mind,” he said. “If you make a mistake then you start pressing and once you start that, you start pressing. We know our potential. If we grind it out, we can perform.”

Ochoa said he’s been playing golf “for almost my entire life but started taking the game serious for the past five years.” He, like the rest of the team, epitomizes that blue-collar, getting down and dirty, approach to the sport. When he arrived, his impact was felt immediately.

“Who is this kid,” Pena said, recalling when he first saw Ochoa as a freshman. “He started tearing it up right from the beginning. He definitely makes you want to work harder when you see the results.”

While that workman-like approach has been the key, there’s also a time to realize what it all means is the big picture – that might be another reason the Bulldogs’ qualified both teams.

“I write my grandfather’s name on my glove,” Tavarez said of Dr. Marvin Tavarez. “He’s had Alzheimer’s and in the last four year it progressed and his memory got worse but some days you could tell he was still there but couldn’t’ get the words out.

“To me that’s a good reminder that if I have a bad hole, I shouldn’t get too down on myself. It’s just a game at the end of the day and there are bigger things I have to worry about. Just having his name reminds me even if I if I get amped up because I just had a birdie to calm back down — it’s still just a game and I have to keep on going and keep on grinding.”

McAllen High A Team

Name, Year, Scoring Avg.

Justin Ochoa, Soph. 77.71

Vince Tavarez, Sr. 80.13

Tyler Pena, Sr. 82.07

Javier de la Garza, Fr. 82.00

Jonathan Guerra, Jr. 83.75

McAllen High B Team

Name, Year, Scoring Avg.

Zach West, Soph. 85.08

Alex Gutierrez, Jr. 94.75

Mark Wilkens, Soph. 96.11

Nicholas Rivera, Fr. 100.33

Cameron Palomin, Fr. 89.17

*scoring averages courtesy rgvgca.com