No, the United States secretary of defense did not win the New Zealand Open last week on the Nationwide Tour. The champion was the other Robert Gates, a former Texas A&M University star who was making his Nationwide debut.
John Dell got Gates on the phone for a wrapup on PGATour.com. (The Nationwide Tour, the big boon for aspiring young American players and their favorite airlines, has shifted from New Zealand to Australia.)
For starters, there's the whole name thing. "I'm in the process of getting everything changed so
that it's Bobby," Gates told Dell. "I was known as Robert for a long time… I don't mind sharing the name, as long as it's a good headline."
Gates grabbed the front page on the Nationwide Tour by making all the right moves and becoming the 13th player in the 21-year history of the Tour to win on his first try. He didn't worry about the 25 mph winds in the final round. After all, in Texas, the wind is always blowing."When we played at Texas A&M it was windy in the fall and the spring so you really have to learn how to cope," Gates said.What made the win even more satisfying was that his girlfriend, Lauren Johnson, whom he met in college, was his caddy. It didn't hurt when Johnson, a former player on the women's team at Texas A&M, helped Gates read some putts during the tournament."She kind of helps me with everything out there," Gates said of Johnson, who will go back to her day job as an instructor at the Massengale Golf School in Houston later this month….Gates did hear from Ryan Palmer, a friend of his who won the PGA TOUR's Sony Open in Hawaii last month, and TOUR veteran Paul Stankowski….So far "things" are going well for Gates, who along with Johnson got a bonus ride in a helicopter earlier this week. The ride was part a benefit from the sponsor of the Michael Hill New Zealand Open.
Parting shot: The victory was worth $108,000, by the way, and gave Gates a two-year exemption on the Nationwide Tour. So this is just the start for him.