The future appears to be as bright as the fairway for amateur golfer Paul Gonzalez.
Gonzalez, an incoming Waxahachie High School junior, is currently playing in San Diego and has one more tournament scheduled in Palm Beach, Florida, next week before returning to school. He’ll play in the Optimist International Junior Golf Championship from July 26 through Aug. 1.
The TaylorMade Junior Open champion is but 16 years old and already has a lengthy list of accomplishments, including Boy’s District 14-5A champion and six tournament finishes in the top three.
“He’s the real thing,” Waxahachie head coach Ronnie Siebert said. “He’ll have the opportunity, if he keeps working at it, to take it to the next level. Of course, he’ll have to have a good college career and it goes from there, but he’s the real thing.”
College is already on the mind for Gonzalez with education as one of his and his parents’ priorities despite the option to turn pro being readily available for the young prodigy.
It doesn’t hurt either when the world’s best golfer Jordan Spieth, a 21-year-old Dallas native who won the U.S. Open and Master’s professional golf tournament back to back in June, went to school at the University of Texas and is one of Paul’s idols.
Outside of Spieth’s growing influence over young golfers, Gonzalez said he is also well aware of the benefits college golf offers amateurs because it provides some players four years of free golf and a way to avoid the pitfalls players can fall into when bypassing college to turn pro.
“I think I would go to college first because the competition then gets way better,” Gonzalez said. “I get to practice on somebody else’s time and not your own. You don’t have to spend your own money to practice.”
There isn’t anything keeping Gonzalez from officially joining the PGA Tour after high school, except for the cost of entry fees that could cost thousands on the professional circuit, he said.
Without any return from playing in amateur tournaments, life for an amateur golfer can be difficult because it puts a burden on the parents who have to pay for entry fees, hotels and other travel costs, Jose Gonzalez, Paul’s father.
And as long as he’s an amateur, Paul isn’t allowed to accept any monetary benefits from tournaments or even sponsors. While sponsorships are permitted, they must fall under the guidelines for amateurs, which prohibits financial transactions, Jose said.
“So lets say you’re represented by Abercrombie and say, ‘Hey Paul, I want to sponsor you and help you play more tournaments. I’m going to give you $2,000 for all your entry fees,’” he said. “You can give him the money and he can take it and pay for his entry fees, but he cannot market Abercrombie and Fitch, he cannot say, ‘Thank you Abercrombie for my $2,000 gift. He can’t put that on social media. He couldn’t acknowledge you for helping him. You can just give it to him and move on. That’s it.”
Unlike football or basketball, Texas University Interscholastic League (UIL) limits a high school golfer’s exposure by excluding a national standing that college scouts or recruiters could use to keep track of some players, Jose said.
“These other tours, they have point systems involved where you earn points based on your placement in the tournament. So if you place first, 10 points. If you place second, one point. Things like that,” Jose said.
Without a system that keeps track of amateur golfers based on performances in UIL sanctioned tournaments, players like Paul are more inclined to compete in tournaments outside of UIL, which in many cases, also takes them out of the state, Siebert said.
After winning the boys 16-18 age group at the TaylorMade Junior Open in Lewsiville last month, Paul qualified for the IMG Academy Junior World Championships in San Diego and the Optimist International Junior Golf Championship in Palm Beach, Florida. Both of which cost upward of $300 for the entry fees alone.
And if you think the solution is to rely on high school tournaments, think again.
“College coaches have a tendency to look more at those tournaments that he plays in and the AJGA [American Junior Golf Association] Tournaments,” Siebert said. “College coaches’ budgets are so limited that they can’t afford to chase people all over the place looking at them, so that’s how come those tournaments like that are important for kids. Thats where the college coaches are going to be and they’re going to be noticing them.”
Although placing in the top 10 of a junior open is an achievement in its own, the real benefit might just be the publicity an amateur could get based on their performance. That’s why Paul and his parents have taken special precautions to keep him focused on the green, they said.
“It’s not that we try to deprive him of the things that other kids have. It’s that we try to minimize the distractions,” Jose said. “Cell phones and girlfriends and too many friends can distract you and pull you a different way. Any kid at the age of 16 can lose sight of what they really want when they see something that’s cool now.”
While it’s far from uncommon for a child today to have a cell phone at the age of 10, Paul is five years older than the average age of phone owners, according to a report from CBS in Sept. 2014. He does not own a phone.
But for him, that’s just fine, knowing a career on the professional tour is becoming more and more of a realistic possibility with each tournament he competes in.
“I have a brighter future, I guess,” Gonzalez said. “Untouched potential, I guess.”