The guy with the best facial hair in Q School is about to become the most recognizable rookie on the PGA Tour.
It’s not like there’s a bunch of competition. Andres Gonzales’ thick brown Fu Manchu mustache, complemented by collar-length brown hair, is not the norm among his mostly clean-shaven new colleagues on tour.
“If there was somebody else with better (facial hair), I didn’t see ’em,” said a laughing Gonzales, who sat and talked in an Olympia coffee shop last week, roughly a week after his tie for 22nd place in the PGA Tour Qualifying School finals earned him his PGA Tour card.
“It’s something, I think, that everybody’s got to do,” said Gonzales. “Everybody’s got to have something that sets you apart. It’s just fun.”
The mustache started as a joke in amateur golf in 2005, partly as a response to the ban on facial hair in his college golf program at UNLV. That’s why he believes his buddies Ryan Moore and Charley Hoffman, both PGA Tour players and former Runnin’ Rebels, also go for the distinctive look in their dress and hair.
The assessment of Gonzales’ facial foliage is courtesy of Stephanie Wei, a friend since their junior golf days together in Joe Thiel’s local program. Wei is now a writer and blogger (www.weiunderpar.com) based in New York City, and charted her pal’s Q School progress through the first stages and the six rounds of the final stage.
Another close friend from junior golf, Lakewood pro Michael Putnam, told The News Tribune, “He is one of those guys who will have a recognizable face and name (on the PGA Tour).”
Gonzales is eager to take his game between the ropes in front of the largest galleries on tour, and if his hair and ’stache stand out, that’s OK.
“It’s something that I’ve dreamed of,” he says, “being in the public eye, just to be recognized as one of the best players, and whatever you can do to help that ... ”
Along the way to his tour card, Gonzales shot a course-record 62 in the opening round of Q School’s second stage at The Bayonet in Seaside, Calif.
In the last of six final-stage rounds, Gonzales was sitting right on the Top 25 cut line and finished birdie-par on 17 and 18 to qualify by one stroke.
On 17, a shot from the bunker left him with a twisty 6-footer, which he holed for birdie.
“It wasn’t so much that I was nervous over the putt on 17, but I just wanted to execute,” Gonzales told Wei. “I was pretty calm. I tried to make sure I finished my stroke and I wasn’t swearing on camera.”
Outside the majors, the one tournament he is most eager to play is the Waste Management Phoenix Open Feb. 3-6 at TPC Scottsdale, known for its record crowds and the raucous amphitheatre surrounding the 16th green.
“You yearn to get in front of huge crowds like that,” he said. “I just think that’s the coolest thing. I might freeze, but I don’t think that’s going to happen.”
So, if it all sounds like brash talk by the new guy, a conversation with Gonzales lets you know that yeah, he’s confident, and yeah, he looks forward to the whole experience. But now that he’s achieved the goal of his golf lifetime, what’s his plan? First of all, it’s to sit with his family and set new goals.
The word “family” in there is pretty fundamental to Gonzales. His biggest regret is that his father, Fred Gonzales, is not alive to enjoy his success. The senior Gonzales, who Andres calls his best friend, died in 2007.
Andres, a Las Vegas resident, is living through this holiday season in an apartment above the garage at his mother Patricia’s Olympia home. He’s enjoying getting up in the morning and sharing coffee with Mom, who he says is maybe even more excited about his PGA status than he is.
And his wife, the former Kristin Ferguson of Olympia, well, she’s the rock, the one-person travel agency and support system he couldn’t do without. Not every spouse could handle the marriage-in-absentia that is the reality for the pro golf road warrior.
Kristin will, for now, keep her job at Advanced Health Care in Olympia, but the couple is plotting the tournaments where she can join him. The Mayakoba Golf Classic in Cancun in late February, for instance, has a circle around it. Kristin is a graduate of Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego, so the tour stop at Torrey Pines in late January looks good, too.
“It just makes me happy being around her and how supportive she is, how happy she is for me,” he said.
Gonzales takes pains to note the support of friends and mentors he’s encountered on the way to the PGA Tour.
Kevin Bishop, then the pro at Indian Summer and now the head of The First Tee of Olympia, was his first teacher. From Thiel, he learned crisp ball-striking. His high school coach at Capital, Greg Santora, was always trying to make golf fun.
From his college coach at UNLV, Dwaine Knight, he learned to believe in the mantra, “You are a great putter.”
With his current swing coach, Mike Davis, who played on the PGA Tour for five years, he works on feel and the mental game.
“We’ve worked long enough together that we know how to create shots,” he said. “We know what’s going wrong when it is going wrong, it’s just a matter of controlling mentally what I’m doing.”
And his caddie of late, Kenny Ebalo, a player with tour ambitions of his own, he credits as the voice of calm during his Q School run, never more so than during the round of 62.
His goals for 2011 are ambitious. He wants to finish in the top 50 in the world. And he’d like to be tour rookie of the year.
“Really, I just want to play good golf,” he said. “I want to be content with what I’m doing on the golf course, be happy with the way I’m going about the process.”
As for the mustache, it’s already world-class.