Ernie Gonzalez passes away at the age of 59
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Written by Staff @PGATOUR
When the 1986 Pensacola Open began, Ernie Gonzalez’s claim to PGA TOUR fame was his 10th-place finish at the Bank of Boston Classic a month earlier. That was his career-best performance. After rain delayed play both Thursday and Friday at the October tournament in Florida’s Panhandle, Gonzalez moved to the top of the leaderboard—thanks to an eagle and five birdies over his final nine holes of the second round Saturday at Perdido Bay Country Club. Gonzalez led Joey Sindelar by a shot, with a Sunday 36-hole finale looming. Those 36 holes never came as the rain that fell as Gonzalez finished his second round only intensified, becoming torrential at times. Unplayable course conditions left officials no choice but to cancel the final two rounds and declare Gonzalez the winner.
That victory, Gonzalez’s lone PGA TOUR title, remained the highlight of his PGA TOUR career. The California native of Mexican and Puerto Rican descent died in a Chicago hospital of causes due to Alzheimer’s disease. He was 59.
Gonzalez, the third lefthander to win a PGA TOUR event—behind Sam Adams and Bob Charles—was born February 19, 1961 in the San Diego suburb of Chula Vista. He attended nearby U.S. International University, where he was a member of the golf team, and he turned pro in 1983. Gonzalez joined the TOUR in 1985. Following a 171st-place money-list finish in 1985, Gonzalez regained his playing privileges at that season’s Qualifying Tournament.
His second year on TOUR was his high-water mark, making 25 appearances and getting to the weekend 13 times. Besides the win and the top-10 in Boston, he added a tie for third at the weather-shortened, 54-hole Vantage Championship in San Antonio, sharing third place with Ronnie Black, Phil Blackmar and Bobby Clampett, five shots behind winner Ben Crenshaw. Gonzalez finished the 1986 season 68th on the final money list. His $48,000 payday in San Antonio was a career-best, $7,500 more than his haul from Pensacola as officials reduced the Pensacola Open purse by 25 percent due to the two lost rounds.
Following his victory, Gonzalez met with assembled reporters and talked about the long and productive week. “I was pretty nervous when I came out this morning. All we’ve been doing is sitting back and waiting. The waiting is tougher than the playing. I don’t know how to react.” He then paused, deciding on his words, before continuing. “It’s a win, and I’m happy. Realistically, my goal was to keep my card. Getting the win is a surprise and a big break.”
Of his lone TOUR win, Gonzalez always contended, his opening-round 63 “was probably the best I’ve ever played.”
Gonzalez’s victory did not lead to additional success on TOUR. By 1988, he had fallen to 207th on the money list and began playing sparingly after that, relying on his past-champion status to get into events. Between 1990 and 1998, he saw action in 38 tournaments but did play in at least one tournament every year from 1999 to 2010. His last made cut came at the 2009 Shriners Hospitals for Children Open, a week where he showed he still had a little game remaining. After opening with a disappointing, 4-over 75 in the first round at TPC Summerlin, Gonzalez shaved 12 strokes off his score in the second round, firing a 63 that included a wild stretch of four birdies, a double bogey and an eagle on the back nine that moved him inside the cutline. He went on to shoot weekend rounds of 69-68 to tie for 47th.
Gonzalez continued to play sporadic pro golf events while working for a beverage distributorship in Las Vegas. He played in 44 Korn Ferry Tour tournaments between the Tour’s inaugural year of 1990 and 2002. He tied for 14th at the 1990 New Haven Open in Connecticut for his top showing. After turning 50, he only played in one PGA TOUR Champions tournament, the 2011 Senior Open Championship, in Surrey, England, where he missed the cut.
Funeral services are pending.