SARASOTA -- Robert Gamez’s road back to the PGA Tour got that much easier.
Well, easier in terms of the financial burden professional golfers face trying to get through the pressure-packed gauntlet known as PGA Tour Qualifying School.
Gamez, a three-time PGA Tour winner, defeated Nick Jones 2-up to capture the West Florida Golf Tour’s Race to the Ritz match play competition that wrapped up its two days at the Founders Club on Sunday.
More importantly, though, his victory in the season-ending tournament earned Gamez a $4,500 check to cover the entry fees for this fall’s Q-School.
“I have to go to Q-School right now, so I’m going to use it for that for sure,” said Gamez, who snapped a four-tournament stretch on the WFGT where he didn’t win any cash. “It’s nice having that little bump. I’ve played in quite a few of these (WFGT events) this year, and I was gearing up for this event (Sunday).”
Originally, the competition was to take place at the Ritz-Carlton Members Golf Club -- but because of the heavy play at the Lakewood Ranch course due in part to a FSGA Florida Junior Tour event meant the WFGT played all four rounds at the Founders in Sarasota.
In Sunday morning’s semifinal round, Jones defeated Englishman Sam Osborne, who lives in Palmetto, 4 and 2. Meanwhile, Gamez downed Daniel Stone 2 and 1.
Jones, who birdied seven of the first 12 holes against Osborne in the morning round, struggled to begin the final -- bogeying the first two holes to fall 2-down.
It looked like he’d fall further behind when Gamez stiffed a wedge on the 396-yard par-4 5th.
However, Jones holed out from the front bunker after conceding Gamez’s short putt to remain 2-down.
Jones, the nephew to PGA Tour veteran John Huston, began to charge as the match turned to the back-nine with the same score line.
Jones birdied Nos. 13-15 to pull within one.
Gamez had briefly retaken a 2-up lead on No. 14, however, after dropping an eagle putt that was on the same line as Jones’ previous eagle attempt.
“It’s kind of hard to miss it, when you gave me the line,” remarked Gamez to Jones as the two walked off the 14th green.
Jones had chances to square the match on Nos. 16 and 17.
But he missed birdie putts on both holes.
“I thought I made that putt when I hit it,” Jones said about his birdie try on No. 16. “And it just didn’t drop. That was kind of a game-changer. If I make one of those two putts on 16 or 17, it changes the entire scope of 18.”
Gamez, whose wedge game is normally as accurate as folk hero Robin Hood’s bow-and-arrow, misfired on No. 16. But he got it up and down from the front bunker to keep his 1-up lead.
After both players just missed birdies on No. 17, Jones had to gamble on the par-5 18th.
Gamez hit a hybrid over the hazard to within wedge distance
“It’s always been down-wind, so I’ve always gone for it,” Gamez said about his decision to lay up on No. 18. “I didn’t know where to hit it. I hit my second shot, and I didn’t know it was good until (the spectators) clapped.”
That forced Jones to go for broke with the ball sitting above his feet on a hill.
“He’s rarely going to make bogey from there. He’s rarely going to make par from there, so I have to make birdie -- maybe eagle,” Jones said. “I just thinned it a little bit ... I had a 2-iron trying to go over the trees and came out of it a little bit.”
Jones’ shot found the hazard, and he conceded the match to Gamez shortly thereafter.