Olympia’s Andres Gonzales gets another crack at proving he belongs on golf’s biggest stage — the PGA Tour.
The Capital High School graduate started as a rookie in 2011, and struggled with the same things many first-timers do — off-the-course responsibilities, travel and playing tournaments on courses with which he had no history.
Gonzales returned in 2013 — and suffered through a massive four-month performances slump by missing nine consecutive tournament cuts.
It was in the middle of that season when happenstance instantly changed Gonzales’ fortunes — and brightened his long-term outlook.
On off weeks, Gonzales liked meeting with friends in Austin, Texas. He happened to visit Austin Country Club the same weekend The Masters was going on to hit golf balls on the driving range.
It was there he noticed a junior clinic being conducted by longtime head teaching professional Ann Marie Gildersleeve.
“She was out there with a bunch of kids,” Gonzales said. “And I watched them swing the club, and they were finishing with their arms so high.”
At that same time, Gonzales was going through a bit of a confidence crisis with his long game. His driving accuracy had dropped nearly 13 percent over two years — down to 48.4 of fairways hit in 2013.
But at the practice facility that day, he watched as teenagers hit their drives straight and true down their target line.
“I asked her about her (teaching) theory,” Gonzales said. “And we worked together for 10 minutes, and I saw results.”
After working with Las Vegas-based instructor Mike Davis for 11 years, Gonzales split to start seeing Gildersleeve, who has done some work with Champions Tour player Tom Kite.
“We talked about, ‘How do we get less curve in the driver, or curve enough to know where it is headed,’ ” Gildersleeve said. “So we went right to the finish. We don’t hit a golf ball with our backswing, but with our downswing, so we worked on him getting more balance in his follow-through.”
Immediate results were spotty, but once he felt comfortable with his swing changes that summer, he surged in August with a tied-for-eighth showing at the Wyndham Championship in North Carolina.
He narrowly missed retaining his PGA Tour card. But going back to the Web.com Tour last season might have been the best thing for him — he had five top-10 finishes, including his second tour victory at the Utah Championship. He finished with a career-high $238,620.
Last fall, he played the fall portion of the 2014-15 PGA Tour season and made the cut in all five tournaments, including a tie for third at the OHL Classic of Mayakoba in November.
“Looking back, that was a struggle that needed to happen to change my career,” Gonzales said. “Now I feel as comfortable as I can get over a driver. Even though it can still get streaky, my misses are not nearly as bad, maybe in the first cut of rough.
Gonzales spent last week in Austin with Gildersleeve sharpening his wedge play before restarting at this week’s Humana Challenge.
“I definitely feel like I have turned a corner,” Gonzales said. “When I feel like I have control of my game, I think it stacks up with some of the best players in the world.”