A pair above par

........................................................................................................................................................................................

As he steps back on the driving course at Isleta Eagle Golf Course, Los Lunas High golfer Dylan Gonzales turns to his teammate Chesten Browning and laughs while asking “Really? Stanford? That’s exactly what I said.”

As he steps back on the driving course at Isleta Eagle Golf Course, Los Lunas High golfer Dylan Gonzales turns to his teammate Chesten Browning and laughs while asking “Really? Stanford? That’s exactly what I said.”

Kenn Rodriguez-News-Bulletin photo: LOS LUNAS HIGH GOLFERS, Chesten Browning, left, and Dylan Gonzales are the first pair of eighth-graders to qualify for the NMAA State Golf Tournament from the same team in the same season. The duo also helped LLHS to win the District 6-4A title this season.

Wanting to go play collegiate golf at Stanford University is but one of the many things the duo have in common. Being young up-and-coming golfers is the first.

Browning and Gonzales both chiseled their names into the record books this past season, becoming perhaps the first pair of eighth-graders to both qualify for a team in a single season.

Both golfers earned three qualifying legs while playing for a Tigers squad that would eventually win the District 6-4A tournament title and in doing so, qualify as a team for the Class 4A State Tournament. Until the district tournament however, it appeard that the Tigers would only qualify individual golfers for the state tournament — Browning, Gonzales and senior Colby Kerr.

While it’s the most noteworthy thing the two have accomplished thus far in their brief careers, it’s far from the only thing they have in common.

Being introduced to the game by their fathers is another.

“We used to fish,” Dylan said of him and his dad. “One day my uncle brought over some clubs, my dad started hitting. I started hitting with my dad, and then he bought me a set of clubs.”

Chesten, who also competes in club swimming, has a similar story.

“My dad played golf and I just picked up the club and swung and it felt good,” he said.

Gonzales said he started playing competitively at age seven, while Browning said he started at age nine. Both cite their mental game as being a strong point of their approach.

“If you focus on the process, the result will come,” said Gonzales.

Now 13, the duo could be considered veterans of the Sun Country and Rocky Mountain youth golf circuits. Their first foray into high school team golf was something else altogether, they both said.

“The good thing about high school golf is you’re not just playing for yourself,” said Browning. “You’re playing for your team and they’re counting on you. So it kind of makes you play better.”

Both Gonzales and Browning had qualified individually for the state tournament, as had teammate Colby Kerr. But it wasn’t until the district tournament that the team, rounded out by freshmen Gilbert Gamboa and Jose Montoya, qualified as a team.

“It was the best feeling ever,” said Gonzales of finishing their round in Grants that Monday and finding out the team was bound for state.

“We weren’t qualified. We got Jose on the team and after that had one chance to get into state. Knowing we did that, shows our hard work paid off.”

The camaraderie Browning and Gonzales show isn’t just on the links. The duo are good friends off the course as well.

“I’ve been playing with Chesten for a long time, he’s one of my good buddies,” Gonzales said. “I know he has talent and to be able to go to state and compete with him is a big deal.

“Chesten helped me strive to do my best and compete. I’m sure I do the same for him. It helps us,” he said.

The duo both hope they can make their way into the winner’s podium individually in the next four years at Los Lunas.

Gonzales will be at Los Lunas High as a freshman while Browning will continue his studies at the Albuquerque Institute for Math and Science charter school while competing for his hometown school.

Both 13-year-olds have short term goals, as well as long term goals – such as playing at Stanford and eventually the Professional Golfers Association circuit.

“I hope I get to get there,” Gonzales said. “It’s like I said, it’s going through the process.”

Browning, not surprisingly, has a similar take on the future.

“It’s taking steps, you can’t just wake up and say ‘I’m going to be professional golfer,’” he said. “You have to work towards it, focus on the process and not the outcome.”

Browning steps back on the driving course, where he confers momentarily with Gonzales, who nudges him.

“That’s exactly what I said, about the process,” Gonzales laughs.

Then they both resume hitting, taking just enough time to see the distance on their shots before setting up the next one.