Jack Prigge handled it like a pro.
As a promising sophomore on the Butte High golf team, Prigge looked like a lock to earn All-State honors, which means finishing in the top 15 at the Class AA State tournament.
Some observers thought he had a chance to win the tournament, or at least place in the top five at State.
Prigge, though, became the victim of an incredibly unlucky break. A classmate who sat close to him tested positive for COVID-19. (Click here for a podcast version of this column.)
While Prigge himself never tested positive or never had any symptoms of any illness, he was considered a close contact.
In the days before the COVID vaccination, that meant Prigge had to quarantine for two weeks. There were no exceptions made for professional athletes, so a high school golfer never had a chance.
Those two weeks of isolation just so happened to include the Western AA Divisional and Class AA State meets.
An auspicious season ended with Prigge locked away in his bedroom.
Wise beyond his years, Prigge handled it like a champion golfer who just three putted on the last hole. Instead of feeling sorry for himself, Prigge looked ahead to a brighter future.
“No, no, not at all,” Prigge said when asked if that ending to his sophomore season still haunts him. “That was something that happened, obviously. Immediately, I put it behind me. I thought, ‘I’ve got two more years, and I’ll go do my best.’”
In doing so, Prigge demonstrated the perfect mentality of a championship golfer. We all want to do it, but putting the last hole behind us is the hardest thing to do.
For so many, one bad hole or one bad shot can derail an entire round.
Missing out on the postseason as a sophomore could have been a devastating moment for a young golfer. Prigge, though, would not let that define him.
Instead, he will be remembered as one of six Butte High boys to ever win a state championship.
Prigge made an improbable comeback to capture the title Friday at a chilly Green Meadow Country Club in Helena.
He followed a 1-over-par 72 with a 1-under 70. He sank a 40-foot birdie putt on the last hole — which was the par-3 No. 9 because the boys started on the back nine — to force a sudden-death playoff with Tyler Avery of Kalispell Glacier.
Prigge birdied the first hole of sudden death, sinking a sliding 14-foot putt. A moment later, Avery missed his birdie putt, and Prigge was Butte High’s first boy state champion since Gary Koprivica won it all in 1963.
“I knew I had to make it,” Prigge said of the championship-winning putt. “I thought I had to make it to play another hole.”
The championship came 363 days after Prigge placed third at the Class AA State tournament in Bozeman, finishing below only Gallatin superstar brothers Jordan and Justus Verge.
“Oh, it’s not even real,” Prigge said less than an hour after he was handed the championship medal. “I just might hit a wakeup call at the hotel and do it all over again. It feels like a dream.”
It was definitely an unlikely title, considering Prigge trailed Helena Capital star Joe McGreevey by seven shots after the first day.
It really seemed unlikely when he trailed by nine shots at one point during the final round.
It still felt highly unlikely going into the last hole, when Prigge still trailed by two shots.
Then he hit his tee shot to 40 feet from the hole.
“I thought that I honestly had zero chance,” Prigge said. “My only chance was to play golf, have fun and leave it all out there and see what happens.
“Even walking up that last hole I didn’t think I had a chance. Even reading that putt I didn’t think I had a chance. That didn’t keep me from trying my best.”
The cold weather did not bother Prigge at all. In fact, he said he welcomed the rain and dropping temperature.
“When I started the day seven shots behind, I wanted it to rain as hard as it could and blow as hard as it could,” he said. “If it would do that, I knew my opponents scores would go up.”
John Regan won the title for Butte High in 1928, and Ruday Merhar won three times — 1929, 1930 and 1932. Ed Woodland took the title in 1952, and Ed Zemljak won the crown during a snow-shortened tournament in 1955.
Eight years later, Koprivica won, and the Bulldogs went 59 years without a boys’ title before Prigge.
“The day I die, I hope I’m one of 60,” Prigge said of the small group of Bulldog champions.
Bulldog girls to capture state golf titles are LuJeanne Gronley (1941 and 1942), Gerry Pochervina (1949 and 1950) and Ashleigh Ogolin (2009).
Butte Central golfers to win titles are Jerry Lyons (1976), Louie Bartoletti (1979) and Tricia Joyce (2018).
Talk about an impressive group that Prigge joined in the Helena rain.
Now a senior, Prigge seems to be just as happy with his team placing third as he was with his individual success. Butte High’s third-place trophy is the first hardware for the Bulldog boys since 1974.
“I love these guys,” Prigge said. “It’s been a hell of a journey.”
He was talking about freshman Chase Choquette, sophomore Brenner Booth, senior Gavin Roesti and senior Jacob Sawyer.
Choquette placed 16th, missing All-State by one shot, and Booth and Roesti tied for 23rd.
With Booth and Choquette back to anchor the Bulldogs in 2023, the future appears to be bright for the Butte High golf team.
It is also extremely bright for Prigge, who received 14 college offers to play golf before he won the state title.
Those offers were also before he shot what is believed to be a school-record 65 at a tournament in Bozeman.
As he weighs his options, which are sure to expand before he makes a decision late this year or early next, Prigge keeps his Bulldog career in amazing perspective.
In doing so, he shows that he has what it takes to take his golf game to the next level and beyond.
It seems nearly impossible to keep Prigge down, whether it is a bad shot, a bad round or a really unlucky break.
“I’ve had a lot of really good experiences — a lot of failure and a lot of success,” Prigge said. “It set me up to know I have to stay in the moment, try my best and let the results speak for themselves.”
— Bill Foley, who was always a headcase on (and off) the golf course, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at twitter.com/Foles74.
You captured this moment and this kid so well . It was an incredible come from behind by not only an great golfer but an incredible kid.
Thank you so much!!!