AUTHOR : MARK BUTTON
Mark Button has spent the past 17-plus years writing about sports for newspapers, magazines and the Internet. He's worked for the Dallas Morning News, Corpus Christi Caller-Times, Rocky Mountain News, CNN/SportsIllustrated.com, Mobile Press-Register and Avid Golfer.
Originally from Kansas, Button has worked for Texas Links since 2008. He published his first children's book in 2011. "Finding Ti Ming & Tem Po, Legend of the golf gods" is a magical journey filled with character-building life lessons. Button plays golf about four times a month and carries an 8.7 GHIN handicap index.
Bobby Gates has a secret weapon. His teacher Charlie Epps calls it his "15th club."
The second-year PGA Tour player from The Woodlands finished 126th on the money list last year. Only the top 125 keep fully exempt status for the next year. He missed securing his card by one stroke at the final regular-season event. He earned $666,735 for 2011 and came up $1,431 short of his tour card.
Instead of cruising into his second season, Gates headed back to Qualifying School, the most grueling six-round competition in golf.
All because of one shot.
That kind of heartbreak can crush a young professional.
But not Gates. He has a secret weapon.
It's called a positive attitude.
"Those are moments that build character," he said. "Someone has to finish 126th each year. I think it's more interesting to see how people bounce back from adversity. It really can be a motivational tool if you let it."
Surrounded by about 15 friends on the putting green near the 18th hole of the Magnolia Course at Disney World in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., Gates watched a series of events unfold that bumped him from No. 123 on the money list when he finished playing to No. 126 at the tournament's end. He allowed himself to be disappointed, but only for a moment.
Then it was back to business.
"Charlie teaches me that everything is a learning experience," Gates said. "I did everything in my power to earn my card. If I hadn't given it my all that week, then I would've been more down about it. But I accomplished my goals. They didn't work out like I had hoped, but that's the outcome. I didn't have control over that."
Quite a mature perspective from a 25-year-old.
His college coach J.T. Higgins said Gates had the same outlook when he arrived at Texas A&M in 2005. A top-10 player in the country as a high school senior, Gates could've gone to school anywhere he wanted. Florida, the second-ranked program in the nation, wanted Gates. So did TCU, the fourth-ranked school.
Gates chose Texas A&M, which at the time was ranked 114th.
"He's always looked more at the future than the past," Higgins said. "He told me he wanted to be part of building up a program. Those other schools had already accomplished so much."
Higgins said Gates was a team leader and mentor even as a freshman. He pushed roommate Martin Piller to new heights—Piller did the same for Gates—and the two built the Aggies into a national powerhouse.
Texas A&M won the NCAA national championship the year after Gates and Piller graduated. Gates called watching the Aggies win the 2009 NCAAs one of his two biggest thrills in golf. Qualifying for the 2010 U.S. Open was the other. (He made the cut and finished 40th.)
Following the misfortune at Disney—and after a severe case of Salmonella in November forced him to withdraw from the HSBC in China with only three holes to play—Gates took his masterful ball-striking and positive attitude to PGA West for Q-School.
He played well for five days and put himself in position to achieve his goal. His final round 66 secured third place and his 2012 PGA Tour card. Gates took the long road, but never doubted himself.
"Bobby is a mature kid, and he knows what he wants in life," said Epps, Gates' teacher for the past two years. "Bobby is proof that a positive attitude is as important as any statistic in golf. Henry Ford said, 'Whether you think you can or you think you can't, you're right.' Bobby knows he can, and that's why he's successful."
With an eighth-place finish at the Humana Challenge in January, Gates is off to a fast start this season. He couldn't get anything going in the first round and hit into the water on the par-5 14th. Another player might have let it rattle him.
Not Gates. He has a secret weapon.
"I shook it off and hit pitching wedge to two feet," he said. "I tapped in to save par and then birdied 15, 17 and 18. It turned an 'OK round' into 1-under, and it really freed me up the next day."
Gates went birdie-eagle-eagle on the back nine the next day and shot 9-under 63 to get into contention.
"I'm still young," Gates said. "Everything I do out here is a learning experience. The thing at Disney actually gave me confidence. I went through it, I handled it and I'm still playing golf. Nothing constructive comes from getting angry or focusing on the negatives."
Want someone to root for this PGA Tour season? I suggest Bobby Gates—the guy with the secret weapon.