ERIE, Colo. – Geoff Gonzalez is Cal Poly's first NCAA Division I National Championship qualifier.
Needing four birdies on the final four holes Saturday, Gonzalez almost aced his last tee shot, landing the ball within a half-inch of the cup and sinking the putt for his fourth consecutive birdie and a final-round 66 Saturday in the NCAA Colorado Regional at the Colorado National Golf Club.
"I'm real proud of myself and our program," said the senior from Diablo, Calif. "This is a great day for Cal Poly golf."
Added Mustang head coach Scott Cartwright, "He just hung in there, had a couple bad holes and then made some incredible shots down the stretch."
Gonzalez, who parred the 7,758-yard, par-72 course on Thursday and Friday and began the final round in 26th place, had an up-and-down day Saturday with four bogeys and 10 birdies, making just four pars.
Starting on the back nine, Gonzalez bogeyed three of the last five holes and made the turn at one under par. He also bogeyed the No. 5 hole on the front nine, his 14th hole of the day, and was at two under par with four holes to play.
"When we got to the No. 6 hole and looked at the leaderboard, we knew that five under par was the number we had to shoot for," said Cartwright.
"After I bogeyed the fifth and walked up to the sixth tee, Coach said I just might as well birdie the last four," added Gonzales. "So we decided to go for broke, take it one by one and I did just that."
Gonzalez hit an eight-iron to within three feet of the cup on the 496-yard par-4 sixth hole and made that putt for a birdie.
The seventh hole is 576 yards and par 5. Gonzalez used a five-wood for his second shot and the ball landed pin high on the fringe. He chipped to within four feet and made another birdie.
Gonzalez used a three-iron from the tee on the 428-yard par-4 eighth hole and hit a wedge shot to within three feet of the cup en route to his third straight birdie.
And on his final hole of the round, the 219-yard, par-3 ninth, Gonzalez hit the ball with his three-iron into the wind and the ball stopped a half-inch from the hole. He completed his six-under-par 66 with his fourth consecutive birdie, his 10th birdie on the day and a berth in the national championships.
"Today I was kind of up and down," said Gonzalez. "A couple bogeys slowed me down, but I had a great finish."
Gonzalez needed to finish as the top golfer in the field not on the top five teams. Oklahoma State won the team title with a 31-under-par 833, followed by Colorado State at 851, Northwestern at 855 and Georgia and Arizona State, both at 857.
Those five teams advance to the NCAA Division I National Championship, which will be conducted May 31-June 5 at Karsten Creek Golf Club in Stillwater, Okla. Oklahoma State is the host institution.
Crawford Reeves of Clemson finished as the second golfer not on the top five teams. He carded a final-round 70 for a five-under-par 211 total and finished about an hour ahead of Gonzalez in a tie for seventh place.
Individual medalist was Kevin Tway of Oklahoma State with a final-round 69 for a 10-under-par 206 total, one stroke ahead of Arizona State's Scott Pinckney. Talor Gooch of Oklahoma State was third at 209.
For Tway, it was his NCAA-record third regional crown, adding to his titles in 2008 and 2009.
Gonzalez finished in a tie for fourth place with Sean Einhaus of Oklahoma State and Harris English of Georgia, all with 210 totals. He posted a 4.42 average on the par 5s and carded 16 birdies over 54 holes, both marks tied for No. 1 among the 75 golfers in the field.
While the first two rounds of the regional were hampered by rain, thunder, lightning and breezy conditions, Saturday's final round featured dry and warmer weather with less wind, though it switched directions on numerous occasions.
"Today was nice and sunny," said Gonzalez. I was able to get into a groove and able to play through without any weather delays. I was able to get into a better mood."
Gonzalez finished 14 holes Thursday before play was suspended, then played 22 holes Friday in a 12-hour day on the course featuring another suspension of play midway through the second round.
Gonzalez was tied for 19th place after the first round was completed Friday morning and slipped into a tie for 26th place following his second round of play. He carded three birdies and a trio of bogeys each of his first two days in the regional.
Thursday's first round, delayed 90 minutes to allow groundskeepers to complete preparations of the course following Wednesday's downpour, began in 38-degree weather with occasional drops of rain and winds above 10 miles per hour, dropping the wind chill to 31 degrees. Heavier rain began to fall at 3 p.m. MDT and, when thunder and lightning hit the course, the round was suspended at 3:45 p.m. MDT.
Play resumed Friday at 8 a.m. MDT and the second round began at 10:30 a.m. MDT. The second round was suspended for 95 minutes at 3:30 p.m. MDT due to lightning but was completed before darkness.
Six regional tournaments were conducted across the country. Thirteen teams and 10 individuals not on those teams competed at each of three regionals, including the Colorado Regional, while the other three regionals had 14 teams and five individuals not on those teams. The low five teams and the low individual not on those teams from each regional advance to the nationals.
Gonzalez has earned All-Big West Conference first-team honors three times. The Mustang golfer from Monte Vista High School has won three tournaments in his four-year Mustang career, and he competed in his third NCAA regional this week.
Gonzalez competed in the 2007 NCAA Division I West Regional at Arizona State's Karsten Golf Course in Tempe and finished tied for 53rd place with a four-under-par 212 total.
As a junior in 2009, Gonzalez carded a five-over-par 221 total and finished tied for 57th place in the NCAA Division I West Regional at the Lake Merced Golf Club in Daly City, Calif. Gonzalez was a redshirt in the 2009-10 season and did not qualify for a regional as a sophomore in 2008.
Gonzalez averaged 72.8 strokes per round as a senior during the regular season with five top-10 finishes and 12 rounds of par or better, including four rounds in the 60s. He won the Folino Invitational hosted by Cal State Fullerton in Irvine on March 22 for his third career collegiate title.
His other career wins were at the Cal Poly Intercollegiate in March 2009 at Cypress Ridge Golf Course in Arroyo Grande, sharing the crown with Scott DeBorba of Sacramento State, and the Anteater Invitational four days later at the El Niguel Country Club.
Gonzalez now has 19 career rounds in the 60s and 53 rounds of par or better so far, finishing in the top 10 a total of 17 times. Gonzalez's career average of 72.59 strokes per round is second to Mustang career record-holder Travis Bertoni (71.70).
His 65 at the 2007 Big West Conference Championships is his Mustang best and one off the school record and Gonzalez also now has a trio of 66s to his credit.
Gonzalez averaged 72.1 strokes per round as a junior in 2009, No. 3 on Cal Poly's all-time list, while his 72.2 average as a freshman in 2007 is No. 5 on the same list. This year's 72.8 average is No. 8.
Gonzalez finished seventh in the 2011 Big West Conference Championships with rounds of 70, 72 and 80 for a six-over-par 222 total at the Mission Viejo Country Club on May 2-3.