Gonzales confident heading into Open

Andres Gonzales was hoping he would hit a few more fairways and sink a few more putts in his rookie season on the PGA Tour.

But if nothing else goes right for the former UNLV golfer, Gonzales always will remember 2011 as the year he finally got to realize his dream of playing in a major tournament.

The Olympia, Wash., native did it the hard way, but he managed to qualify for the U.S. Open after playing some of his best golf of the year last week in the heat and humidity at Tunica National Golf Club in Memphis, Tenn.

Gonzales, who competed for UNLV from 2003 to 2006, is one of four golfers with Las Vegas ties who made it through qualifying to play at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md., beginning Thursday. The others are former Rebel Chad Campbell, former Bonanza High School star and fellow PGA Tour pro Scott Piercy and former Coronado star and UNLV player Matt Edwards.

They join former Rebels Charley Hoffman, Ryan Moore, Adam Scott and local residents Nick Watney and Kevin Na in the Open field.

"It's my first major," Gonzales said, "and I just hope I can hit enough fairways and greens and put up a good score."

Gonzales, who will tee off at 9:40 a.m. Thursday from the No. 10 tee, said he's not looking to just make the cut and get to the weekend. His focus is on winning, something he hasn't come close to doing this year.

"Everyone has that mindset out on the Tour," he said. "It's a realistic goal to try to make the cut, but winning is also realistic. At least you have to think that way."

Gonzales has yet to get his game untracked this season.

In eight PGA Tour events, he has made the cut just twice and won less than $16,000. In three Nationwide Tour events, he has missed the cut twice and has just $1,925 in earnings.

"I haven't played up to the standard I would like," Gonzales said. "But I feel like I've started to play better the last month or so. Earlier in the year, I was trying to win the tournament with each shot, and you can't play golf that way and be successful.

"I started to relax more and not put as much pressure on myself, and it seems to be helping. My short game is better lately, and I'm getting up and down a lot."

Gonzales said he managed to be tougher, mentally and physically, than most of the competitors at last week's sectional qualifier to get his spot in the field.

"It was so hot, you had to out-grind people," he said. "Mentally, I was able to stay in it a little longer than most guys, and I think my time at UNLV helped me. I always played well in the heat when I was in Las Vegas."

Gonzales can only hope he carries over his play from sectional qualifying to this week's Open and that it jump-starts his first season on the tour.

"I know I can play better," he said. "It's been a struggle so far. But it's a learning process, and you have to look at it from a big-picture perspective. Throwing this on the resume helps."

Contact reporter Steve Carp at scarp@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2913. Follow him on Twitter: @stevecarprj.