While Michael Putnam and Andres Gonzales compete against each other, they also root for the other to play well. At PGA Tour Q-School, I went to watch Mike play the last few holes and he asked me how Andres finished. When I told him it looked like Andres was in the top-25, a big smile appeared on Mike’s face and he was nearly giddy. I wasn’t at the US Open Sectional qualifier in Tunica, MS, but his reaction was probably similar.
You see, the two grew up playing with and against each other. They even shared the same swing coach, Joe Thiel (along with me, which is why I’ve been good friends with them since I was 15 — we practiced and played at the same tournaments together).
Putnam and Gonzales both played at the US Open Sectional qualifier at Tunica National Golf & Tennis, and posted the second-lowest 36-hole total at 11-under. The field included Sergio Garcia, Chad Campbell, Brian Gay, Fredrik Jacobsen, Briny Baird, etc. — basically everyone playing in the St. Jude Classic that hadn’t qualified for Congressional yet.
“Mike, Ryan (Moore) and I have grown up playing junior golf together since we were 14, we played in college together, we’re all members at the same course at Tacoma CC and then we’re playing out here together,” said Andres. “This is Michael’s third US Open and Ryan’s obviously played in quite a few.”
Last Sunday Andres’s flight into Memphis had been delayed and he didn’t get to the hotel until almost 2:30am. His wake-up call was at 5:30am. As Geoff Ogilvy once said last year, you can play golf without any sleep as long as you’re not drinking.
The travel hold-ups and lack of sleep didn’t impact Andres.
“I was just super excited,” said Andres, who posted 67-66. “It was 36 holes and it was so hot out there. If you could somehow keep yourself mentally in it, then you had a good chance. Everybody got pretty exhausted, including the guys that made it. Just try to focus on golf and drink water. That’s pretty much it.”
Mike, who has finally joined Twitter (follow him — @Michael__Putnam — two under dashes), laughing, said Andres was quite the Twitter superstar at the qualifier course.
“All these old members were watching and they were going, ‘Oh it’s Andres, I follow that guy on Twitter, he’s the best!'”
When I started asking Mike about how he held up in the heat, he cut me off, saying, “No, that’s boring. Here’s what you need to know. Basically, I just put it on cruise control after the first round. There are three holes out there 14, 15, 16, and I was nine-under on that stretch. I made three eagles and three birdies. I eagled 14th twice and I eagled 16 in my first 18.
“That’s how I qualified.”
I wish all interviews were so straightforward!
When Putty finished, Andres was already cooling off in the clubhouse. Mike gave him a big hug.
“It’s his first major and we were pumped for each other,” said Putnam.
My phone died while I was covering the qualifier in Columbus, but when I turned it back on, it started blowing up with texts that I thought I qualified for the US Open! — most of them were friends informing me Andres was in (they were pumped, even the ones that don’t know him personally).
“I’m excited to play my first US Open,” said Dres. “I’ve never played in a major.”
It’s too bad Tiger Woods had to withdraw. Andres, who frequently tweets to Tiger, said last week before Tiger pulled out he wasn’t going to go out of his way to talk to him, but if their paths crossed, he would have (jokingly) said, “Hey, why you big-leaguing me?”
Andres is most excited about playing in front of thousands of people — it’ll also be a first for him.
“It makes me focus more when there are cameras around,” said Andres, smiling. “I don’t want to do anything stupid on camera.”
Added Mike: “The legend is going to grow. I tweeted, ‘Us open baby! I’ll be playing! My boy @Andres_Gonzales will also be showing his foo man choo to the world!'”
It doesn’t seem like very long ago when we were all playing in the US Junior Amateur in 2000 at Pumpkin Ridge. Now these guys are competing in the US Open together.