Cal Poly’s Geoff Gonzalez wasn’t quite sure but he felt like maybe 5-under might get it done.
In order to keep his collegiate career going, Gonzalez, a native of Diablo, Calif., had to shoot somewhere around 66 or 67 on a Colorado course he was barely familiar with. Through 36 holes of the NCAA’s Colorado Regional last week, Gonzalez stood at even-par after a pair of 72s.
“I shot 60 one time. I made eight straight birdies so I knew I could do it,” said Gonzalez.
But the circumstances were much different on Saturday morning.
At the Big West Championships just weeks before, Gonzalez hacked his way to an 80 in the final round.
“I was in good position but that last round I was kind of fatigued. It stung,” admitted Gonzalez. “I didn’t want to go out like that.”
Starting on the back nine at the Colorado National Golf Club, the scorecard showed four birdies – and three bogeys – for a 1-under total. Birdies on Nos. 1 and 4 brought him to 3-under and within striking distance of Clemson’s Crawford Reeves, who shot 70 and was the leader for the region’s lone individual qualifying spot at 5-under.
With the wind howling, Gonzalez bogeyed the 226-yard fifth hole to drop back to 2-under.
“I didn’t exactly know where I was but I knew I had to make birdies to have a chance,” said Gonzalez. “I had trouble keeping my momentum all week. Every time I made birdie it seemed like I came back with a bogey. I really tried to take it one shot at a time.”
A tap-in birdie on the par-5 seventh led to another on his 53rd hole.
It came down to this:
• A gusting 25 mile-per-hour wind in your face.
• A 219-yard par-3 at Colorado altitude.
• The pin is at the back of the green.
• Maybe 6-iron? 5-iron without the wind?
Gonzalez and Cal Poly head coach Scott Cartwright decided on 3-iron.
“When I got up there I pretty much could have blown on it to knock it in,” said Gonzalez, whose tee shot nearly found the hole for an ace. “It was kind of surreal. As soon as I tapped in, Coach shook my hand and congratulated me for making the NCAAs. I still didn’t believe it until the NCAA handed me the brochure.”
Gonzalez birdied his final four holes and five of his last six to shoot 66 to become Cal Poly’s first NCAA Division I finals qualifier. He will be one of six individuals at the 2011 NCAA Championships in Stillwater, Ok., May 31-June 5.
Missouri’s Jace Long, Coastal Carolina’s Sebastian Soderburg, Wake Forest’s Lee Bedford, Middle Tennessee State’s Jason Millard and UC-Davis’ Matt Hansen earned the other five spots.
In the Zone
As a high school golfer in Dixon, Mo., Jace Long once shot 64. As a 13-year old he won an AJGA event. So shooting 10-under 62 on the final day of an NCAA Regional is probably no big deal, huh?
“I tried to compare it to a 63 I shot earlier this year but I really couldn’t,” said Long, a sophomore for Missouri who earned the NCAA Southeast Region’s individual qualifying spot. “I would have to say it was the best round I’ve ever had. I got to 17 and 18 and I was exhausted. I was really emotional for some reason because I knew I’d done something special.”
After a 73 and 72 on the par-72 Golden Ocala course, Long was tied for 25th entering the final round. But confidence grew after a bogey-free final nine holes of the second round.
He shot 7-under 29 over his first nine holes during the final round. All told there were nine birdies and an eagle – he bogeyed the par-4 second hole. To shoot 62 requires a few “unexpected” shots.
A putt on his fourth hole rolled and rolled … and rolled … and rolled. Eventually the 100-footer found the bottom of the cup for birdie.
Three holes later, on the par-4 16th hole, Long’s 140-yard approach from the fairway rattled home for an eagle.
“As the round was going on I tried to talk myself into thinking I was 2-over or something,” said Long. “It was one of those rounds where things went my way.”
On Tuesday, Long teed it up in Arkansas for a USGA Public Links 36-hole qualifier. Four days later he’ll be in Stillwater for the NCAA Championships.
“One of my goals was just to get [to the NCAAs],” said Long. “I’m just going to have fun with it.”