Half Man, Half Amazing

Published on Tuesday, July 24th, 2012 in Features

That task became easier this April, when Gonzales broke through on the golf course with a wire-to-wire win at the Soboba Golf Classic.

It’s easy to layer all kinds of storylines onto Gonzales’ win, most notably the one where he proves himself as a golfer capable of more than just being funny in 140 characters or less. But to do so would require the assumption that Gonzales has ever felt he has something to prove — an assumption that would be patently false.

“I was proud of myself — not because of anything I proved to anyone, but in the way that I handled myself mentally, leading wire to wire,” he says of the win. “As long as I’m playing good golf, people can write whatever storylines they want. Doing well on the golf course is what’s satisfying to me.”

Most satisfying of all, the win put $135,000 in Gonzales’ pocket and all but assured a return to the PGA Tour in 2013. Should he win twice more this year, Gonzales can earn an immediate “battlefield promotion” to the big Tour, while finishing atop the Web.com money list (he was fourth as of mid-July) will guarantee him entry to the 2013 Players Championship and other exclusive PGA Tour invitationals.

Gonzales says that he’ll return to the Tour a much stronger player — both physically and mentally — than he was during his rookie season in 2011.

“It’s definitely nice to know that I’m most likely going to go back to the Tour next year,” he says. “When I went last year, I was just so excited to be there. I spent way more time at the course than I usually would, practiced a lot more, and kind of got away from my usual routine. At a certain point, I was like, ‘What am I doing?’ Once I went back to my regular routine, I made 90 percent of my money in the second half of the year.

“I’m excited to go back.”

The week following his win at Soboba, Gonzales was back at his home in Lakewood, enjoying the company of his wife, Kristin, and their puppy, a 20-pounds-and-growing Great Dane. Many of Gonzales’ tweets reflect his passion for the Pacific Northwest, to which he returns as often as the Tour schedule allows — for a week, or two, before heading back out on the road.

There’s perhaps never been a more talented threesome of teenagers knocking it around our Puget Sound tracks than the Gonzales-Moore-Putnam group that frequented Tacoma Country & Golf Club (where all three are members) and other local courses in the area in the late ‘90s and early 2000s.

Ryan Moore, in particular, was — and continues to be — a big influence on Gonzales. As Moore dominated the Northwest junior circuit like only Fred Couples had before, Gonzales had a front-row seat to the show, observing the way his friend practiced, prepared, studied, and handled himself under pressure. Moore convinced Gonzales to join him at UNLV in 2002, then turned pro following the 2004-05 season, leaving Gonzales as the undisputed No. 1 for the first time in his amateur career.

“When I was in school with Ryan, it felt like I was playing for second place every tournament,” says Gonzales, who indeed finished second to Moore at the 2001 Washington State High School Championships. “When Ryan left [UNLV], that was kind of when I felt like, ‘OK. It’s my turn.’

“That’s certainly not a good way to think, but the kid was just dominating.”

Gonzales took over that senior season, following up a successful summer in 2005 with another strong year. When it came time to turn pro in 2006, Moore was there for him once again, to lend advice, or merely the encouragement every rookie sometimes needs.

“He’s been a good, loyal friend, just constantly encouraging me and really believing in my game,” says Gonzales, who notes the two speak every couple of weeks. “It’s encouraging to have somebody at that level have confidence in me and encouraging me to keep doing it, and that I’m good enough to make it.”

Gonzales says he’s not sure what’s in the water in the Tacoma area that has produced so many outstanding golfers in recent years, including himself, Moore, Michael Putnam and Gig Harbor’s Kyle Stanley, all of whom are under 30 years old, and three of whom have PGA or Web.com Tour wins under their belt.

“It definitely helps each one of us to see each other doing it, and pushes us to want to be better than each other,” he says. “I think it helps younger kids also, who might be in college right now, or junior golfers out at Tacoma [Country and Golf Club] who might see Michael or Ryan or I out there a fair amount, believe that they can make it.

“I don’t think there’s that much difference in golfers throughout the country in terms of actual potential ability,” he adds. “It’s just getting it in your mind that you can do it, and then putting in the time and practice to make it happen. Any encouragement you can get is big.”

Gonzales returned home in May for the Washington Open, donating all of his fifth-place winnings to the tournament’s charitable beneficiary, Camp Korey. Charity is close to his heart — particularly research into a cure for pancreatic cancer, which claimed both his wife’s grandfather in 2002, and his own father in 2007.

Last year, Andres and Kristin Gonzales hosted the first-annual Andres Gonzales Charity Golf Tournament in Tacoma, raising just under $60,000 to support pancreatic cancer research. This year’s event, featuring Gonzales and several other Web.com Tour pros, is scheduled for Sept. 7. More information will be made available as the date approaches at Gonzales’ website, andresgonzalesgolf.com.

“We were really proud of it,” he says. “Especially for a first-year event. Hopefully this year we can do even better.”

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