On Monday, July 12 Koi Zunie signed his letter of intent to play collegiate golf for Bacone College in Muskogee, Okla. The signing took place at the Santa Ana Golf Club, where Koi says his true golf career started last year at the Notah Begay III (NB3) Foundation’s Native Youth Golf Championship.
Koi grew up playing an array of sports, and has always held a special interest in golf from watching his dad and grandpa. From his home in Zuni, N.M. Koi had little access to anything golf related. The nearest golf course was in Gallup, a 45-minute drive, and there was no local youth golf program for Koi to join. After his elementary years, Koi started to gravitate towards other sports that were more accessible, like football.
However, after years of only playing leisurely, Koi wanted to give golf a try again. Only one thing was holding him back from competing, his high school didn’t have a golf team. Koi and his father pitched the idea of starting one to the school board and it eventually was approved. Koi was given the greenlight to compete his junior year as the first-ever golfer from Zuni High School.
Unfortunately, days before Koi was set to compete in his first tournament the pandemic hit. All schools and sports were canceled for the remainder of the year. On the upside of things, golf courses were one of the first things to open back up after the shutdown.
“COVID shut everything down, but luckily we still had this outlet of golf,” Koi’s father, Kevin Zunie said.
Feeling unsure about what was to come, Koi came across the advertisement for the NB3 Foundation’s Inaugural Native Youth Golf Champion slated for August 2020. He knew he wanted to play. He saw it as an opportunity to get experience, and to see where he was amongst fellow Native youth his age.
“After the first round, we saw where I was at and I was seeded better than I thought,” he said.
Seeing where he was and how he finished overall gave Koi a boost of encouragement. He recalled being in awe of the Santa Ana Golf Club and all the nice equipment he seen fellow golfers have.
“I had golf clubs in my bag that were older than I am,” Zunie said. ”My grips were sliding down my hand.”
Regardless of his equipment, Koi was still holding his own and staying competitive in his division. Something he and his dad were proud of in the end.
After the tournament and receiving news his senior season of football was canceled, Koi decided to focus all his efforts on preparing for the spring golf season.
Koi and his dad hit the road, traveling to Grants to get some valuable practice in and finding golf tournaments to compete in. In his first and only season as a high school golfer, Koi went on to win first place in the Grants High School Tournament, finish with All-district honors and qualify to play in the New Mexico High School State Tournament. He ended up finishing in the top 10 at state, a feat he wouldn’t have imagined just a year ago.
“The little things pay off,” Koi said. “I was practicing with one piece of turf, a holey net and a tire as my target. It may not be luxury practice tools for golf, but that’s how I did it.”
NB3 Foundation Director of NB3FIT, Clint Begay kept up with Koi throughout his season and began noticing his scores getting better and better. Knowing Koi was a senior, Begay reached out to Britanie Wacoche, the head golf coach at Bacone College and let her know about Koi. Wacoche liked what she saw in Koi and asked him to join the program.
“We’re happy to have Koi, this is a great opportunity to not only get a higher education but to have fun playing golf while doing it,” Wachoche said.
Begay was on-site for the signing representing the NB3 Foundation.
“At the NB3 Foundation we try to help Native youth as much as we can. Golf has been a great sport to my family and the foundation, so we just try to give back,” Begay said. “I helped Koi with words of encouragement and some equipment, but he put in the work. He put in the time.”
Koi’s starts at Bacone College next month, and looks forward to seeing where golf and school will take him.
“Thank you to my parents for believing in what I wanted to do. My extended family, people who believed in me is what I really keep close. Thank you to Clint, the NB3 Foundation, Zuni High School and Bacone for giving me a shot. We’ll see where it goes from here.”
After college Koi says he hopes to come home to help introduce golf to the youth at a young age.