Gonsalves fires 67 to defend his Section golf title

Denair’s Ethan Gonsalves got off to a great start with birdies on two of his first three holes Monday, but it was a scrambling par on his fourth hole that kept his momentum going on his way to a 5-under-par 67 and first place for the second straight year at the Sac-Joaquin Section Small Schools Tournament.

The victory qualified Gonsalves into the Masters Tournament next week at The Reserve at Spanos Park in Stockton for the third year in a row.

Gonsalves – a senior who was the Southern League MVP – played Monday at Cherry Island Golf Course north of Sacramento. Other than taking a virtual tour of the holes online, he had never seen the course, which is mostly flat but has plenty of water and other hazards the players must navigate and avoid.

Gonsalves started at hole No. 3, a 421-yard par 4 with a gentle dogleg to the left. He hit the fairway, knocked his second shot on and made the putt for birdie – a perfect start to his round. He made a nice two-putt par on the tough par-3 fourth hole, then rolled in his second birdie putt on No. 5 to go 2-under early in his round.

But on a day when Gonsalves made seven birdies, it was an unexpected par on the 550-yard par-5 sixth hole that really highlighted the day.

His drive went into the trees, forcing him to chip back into the fairway. He was still too far away to reach the green, so laid up with his third shot. A poor swing on his fourth shot left him on the green 40 feet from the cup. He took time to size up his putt, then stroked it firmly. A few feet from the hole, Gonsalves knew it was in. When it went dropped, he jumped up and gave a little fist bump – more emotion than he typically shows on the course.

“It electrified the guys playing with him and the coach who was following him. It really energized the group,” said Denair coach Greg Gaudio, who was on a different hole acting as a monitor for three other players. He heard about the reaction from people who were watching Gonsalves.

“He didn’t want to have a blow-up hole,” Gaudio said. “He was very conservative after he made a mistake. He just punched out to get the ball back in play. When he got on green, he walked around and took his time. He was trying to make the putt, but he didn’t want to race it by (the hole).”

The par-saving definitely was the highlight of a day when Gonsalves set a personal best with seven birdies and just two bogeys in his 67. It was the first time he ever has shot 5-under-par.

“I’d say it was just like playing a video game. Just point and shoot. I put myself in great spots to be aggressive and it paid off,” said Gonsalves, who already has accepted a scholarship to Cal State Stanislaus.

Gaudio said Gonsalves was “flipping out” after the round.

“He said, ‘I shot 67. I can’t believe it,’ ” the coach said. “He was really pumped.”

After winning the Small Schools Tournament for the second straight year, Gonsalves now moves on to the place he’s been the past two years – the Masters Tournament. From there, the top three teams and four players not on those teams will qualify for the NorCal Tournament on May 20 at Berkeley Country Club.

Making it to the NorCal Tournament has been Gonsalves’ goal since the season began.

Two years ago, he shot 78 at the Masters and it took 73 or better to qualify for NorCals. Last season, Gonsalves matched par on a calm day at Spanos Park, but “some guys went really low because there was no wind,” Gaudio said.

Gonsalves hopes this time is different. He’ll play a practice round at Spanos Park on Thursday. With his game seemingly in top form right now, he will attempt to become the first Denair player ever to reach the NorCals.

“That’s been Ethan’s goal from the beginning of the season,” Gaudio said. “He’s got a shot now.”

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