Andres Gonzales earned his 2011 PGA Tour card, thanks in part to his clutch play coming down the stretch in the final two holes. He posted a four-under 68 in the sixth round on Crooked Cat at Orange County National at Q-school to finish the six-round marathon at 10-under, good enough for T22 and two shots clear. The 27-year-old from Olympia, WA, doesn’t just have the best facial hair at Q-school — he now has the best on the PGA Tour.
Andres delivered in the clutch, hitting huge shots on 17 and 18. He pushed his drive on the par-5 No. 17. It looked like he might have to lay up, but he was lucky that it went past a tree, where he had an opening and didn’t have to work the ball. He hit a high four-wood — maybe too high — that landed in the greenside bunker on the right. A great bunker shot left him with an eight-foot downhill slider for birdie.
As he set up to the putt, I couldn’t watch. Andres had been wavering on the cut line for the top-25 all day.
“It wasn’t so much that I was nervous over the putt on 17, but I just wanted to execute,” said Andres. “I was pretty calm. I tried to make sure I finished my stroke and I wasn’t swearing on camera.”
Andres’ putt just slid in and he followed it with a massive fist-pump. (Meanwhile, I jumped up with excitement and probably almost fell over.)
“He couldn’t write down his score on the 18th tee because he was so nervous,” said Andres’ caddie Kenny Ebalo. His hand was shaking.”
“I tried to slow him down — a little bit on 16 tee. On 17 tee, I was trying to talk to him on the tee and make sure he had water.”
Andres disagreed. “I was normal because I had all the confidence in the world that at one point, the putts would drop.”
After pushing his drive to the right on 18, he took dead aim at the flag and knocked an incredible 4-iron over a tree. (I freaked out and jumped on a friend who told me to calm down. Sorry, it’s not every day that one of your close friends is about to fulfill his dream.)
“On 18 it was the most I thought about a shot — I just wanted to hit a good shot and I did,” said Andres. “That was probably my best shot of the day. I wanted to make sure it got over the tree.”
The ball landed right at the pin and stopped about 15 feet above the hole.
“That’s the part where I got nervous,” said Kenny. “I didn’t want him to hit the putt too hard and run by. I didn’t want him to emotionally force it into the hole, but it was a good putt.”
If only the putt would have dropped, but it didn’t end up mattering. Andres fought back emotions as he walked off the green. (So did I.) After five years on the mini tour and with all that he’s been through, I was just so happy for him.
“I’ve never been so popular,” he joked. “I’m up to 105 text messages.”
After a celebratory beer, I walked back out to watch Michael Putnam. In between the 17th green and 18th tee, Mike, who placed T9 to improve his status by 30 spots, turned to me and asked how Andres finished. I said he shot four-under. “Well, is that in?” asked Mike. Yeah, I’m pretty sure he’s in the clear.
“Really?!” said Mike with an-almost giddy smile. “I’m so happy for him. I have goosebumps right now!”
Back at the clubhouse, the news was still sinking in for Andres. He showed a message he had just received to his agent and then to me. It was from PGA Tour player Bill Lunde, who wrote, “Your dad is smiling today.”
Andres’ father Fred, who was his best friend, passed away from a brain tumor in 2007.
“It makes me happy and sad,” said Andres fighting back emotions. “I wish he were here for this.”