In the last few months of his rookie season, Bobby Gates caught a streak of bad luck and it seemed like everything that could go wrong, did. Fortunately, his luck changed just in time for PGA Tour Q-school finals, where he came back from a disappointing fifth round one-over 73 to shoot six-under 66 in the sixth to climb to a tie for third at PGA West on Monday and retained full status for the 2012 season.
Best of all, Gates doesn’t have to deal with being that guy — you know, the one who was $1,431 short of finishing in the top 125 on the money list to avoid the dreaded return to Q-school.
“It feels awesome that for another year I don’t have to answer questions about being 126 and being in that category (Ed. note: conditional status, which is kind of like purgatory),” said Gates on Monday after walking out of the scoring trailer. “Now I’m in a great spot where I’ll get in a lot and be able to play a lot (of tournaments).
“I’m not at the mercy of everybody else deciding whether or not they want to play. Now I’ll be high enough up that I can set somewhat of a schedule to get going and I can take advantage of my finish (Monday). I’m really happy the way I hung in there and never took anything for granted, just kept going, kept grinding.”
To clarify, when Gates mentions finishing “high enough up,” he’s referring to the priority list, where each player is given a number that ranks them based on their finish alternating between the top 25 (and ties) at Q-school and top 25 on the Nationwide Tour money list. Obviously, the higher up, the better because he’s now almost guaranteed a spot at the Tour’s premier events and doesn’t have to deal with the waiting or guessing game. It may not sound like a big deal, but it makes a huge difference and reduces a lot of extra stress. If you get into the better events, the more opportunities you have to earn more money and better your position, etc. — which is especially important for the “reshuffle” of the priority list that happens every 5-7 events throughout the season, with the first following the west coast swing.
Added Gates: “Finishing top 25 is huge, and then the higher you finish, the better life gets.”
He even caught a great break on the intimidating 18th hole at Nicklaus Tournament on Monday.
“I had a phenomenal lie (from the rough and was able to reach the green, then two-putt for par),” said Gates, who notched three top-ten finishes as a rookie, including sixth at the Wells Fargo Championship (Quail Hollow). “I got really lucky. It was on top of the hill. I’ve gotten some really bad breaks the last few months, so to get a good one and have it go my way, I’m just ecstatic. ”
In October at the season-ending Children’s Miracle Network Classic at Disney, Gates had seemingly locked in No. 125. Then, he three-putted from 40 feet on the 18th hole in the final round, while D.J. Trahan birdied it to edge out Gates for the last spot.
It already sucks to three-putt, so I can’t imagine when a three-putt costs a trip back to Q-school.
“It wasn’t fun, and I wasn’t happy, but I kind of took two or three days to just be mad about it and frustrated,” said Gates, 26, who played his college golf at Texas A&M. There’s a lot of things that go through your head as far as what I could have done differently throughout the year, but when you look back on it, it’s just one of those things in sports.”
Gates also learned a valuable lesson: Every shot matters in every round at every tournament.
Two weeks later, he endured a more painful experience — getting salmonella poisoning in China.
Interestingly enough, Gates had earned a spot into the HSBC Champions, a World Golf Championship event, in Shanghai, by virtue of finishing in the top-three in the Australasian Tour’s Order of Merit. He played in four events and finished first, third, sixth and 12th.
Gates isn’t sure what food he ate that made him sick, but thinks it might have been a caesar salad. He ended up withdrawing after three rounds and while he tried to play, he spent most of the time trying not to have an accident on the golf course.
“To be polite I didn’t leave the bathroom for very long,” he said. “Every couple holes I could find somewhere to use the bathroom I was there, and in between that was my only focus. Golf was an afterthought. I was just trying not to get sick.
“I’m still recovering, but I’m to the point now where I’m healthy enough to go about daily activities…eat regularly and whatever I want.”
When he returned to Texas, he spent nearly two weeks in bed and didn’t leave the house. Gates, who towers over almost all his peers at 6’5″, estimated he lost at least five pounds and jokingly said, “I was big enough going into it that I could lose a few.”
With adversity come lessons that hopefully leads to more wisdom. Gates learned a few things about himself throughout his rookie year, along with enduring — and surviving — another trip to Q-school finals. (Another great quality is that he’s honest and able to admit weaknesses.)
“I think when you go through a hardship like I did, you often question yourself and you wonder what if, am I really cut out for this and am I strong enough to come back from it,” said Gates. “I was very blessed to go out and play well this week and put myself in a good position coming into (Monday).
“Final rounds have been a struggle for me — finishing them out strong. So (on Monday) it was huge for me to just go out and play well and finish them out and hit some great shots down the stretch. I really played well all day, so I’m very happy with that.”