McALLEN — McAllen Memorial senior Raul Gonzalez, one of the Rio Grande Valley’s most talented and consistent high school golfers, signed to continue his academic and playing career at Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio, an NAIA school that competes in the Red River Athletic Conference.

“It was a great feeling. A lot of hard work went in to get me to where I’m at today. I can’t really describe the feeling,” he said. “I’ve worked for five years to achieve my goal and dream of playing collegiate golf, and Our Lady of the Lake was a great option being close to home. During this pandemic a lot of teams weren’t really recruiting as much, and it was a blessing for coach Arnie Martinez to recruit me. That’s what led me to choose Our Lady of the Lake.”

Gonzalez, who graduated from McAllen Memorial in May and intends to major in business at Our Lady of the Lake, signed his national letter of intent to join the Saints golf program at a signing ceremony Friday evening at Palm View Golf Course in McAllen, his favorite course.

“It’s my home course and I’ve been playing there ever since I was an eighth grader,” he said. “The facilities and the employees there are all just so great and they treat me so well. They knew that I had a dream, and they did everything that they could to help me.”

The McAllen product noted he loved playing at Palm View, one of the area’s more difficult courses, because of some of the unique challenges presented by the layout of the course like swinging into strong South Texas winds and carefully navigating quick greens on every hole.

“It’s a very tough course. If you’re not hitting the ball straight or in the middle of the fairway, you’re not going to play well. I think it’s one of the toughest courses in the Valley and I truly believe that it’s the best as well,” Gonzalez said. “I volunteer at the (McAllen) Amateur and I remember (last year) it was super windy those days and the greens were rolling super fast, so it was pretty tough.

“With your ball striking down here in the Valley, the wind blows in all different directions so you have to be able to control ball flight and move the ball up and above from right to left so it is a great challenge, especially when the greens are rolling,” he added. “It’s real tough, but definitely playing down here in the Valley has made me into a better golfer.”

Raul Gonzalez signs to attend the Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio on Thursday, July 2, 2020, at Palm View Golf Course in McAllen. (Joel Martinez | jmartinez@themonitor.com)

Gonzalez also credited coach Celso Gonzales, the boys golf head coach at McAllen Memorial, for helping him develop his golf game as a four-year varsity letterman, particularly his mental approach.

“He’s definitely helped with my mental game. I’m very competitive, so he taught me that I’m not always going to win and how to accept the losses and learn from them,” Gonzalez said of his high school coach. “He’s been a great coach and a great friend. I’m truly blessed that he was my coach, that I have him in my life and that I’m truly going to miss him when I go to Our Lady of the Lake. He was a major factor in why I am the player that I am today.”

Gonzalez developed a reputation as one of the RGV’s top high school golfers, too.

The former Mustang has thrived in individual tournament play for years. He picked up his most recent victory after shooting a 3-under 69 at Weslaco’s Tierra Santa Golf Club in late June, marking his 11th tournament championship and 49th top-five finish on the Southern Texas PGA’s Junior Tour since 2016.

As a freshman and sophomore, he was a part of two district championship teams at McAllen Memorial. By his senior season, Gonzalez led the Mustangs to a first place team finish in the 2020 6A Regional Preview Invitational in late February, edging out Harlingen High by only two strokes.

Unfortunately for Gonzalez, his teammates and competition, however, that became the final meet of the 2019-20 school season after the University Interscholastic League chose to shut down the spring sports season in response to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

“We were such a good team. We could have been better but you know life gets in the way,” Gonzalez said. “It was a great experience and a great four years, and the best memories for sure were of course our district championships that we won as a team, but also traveling together, going out, eating at different places and just creating a brotherhood bond that we’ll have for the rest of our lives. I’ll truly remember that forever.”

Despite an abbreviated senior season, though, Gonzalez believes the time away has actually done more to help improve his golf game, and said he looks forward to maintaining that focus until the spring semester when he and the Saints golf program hope to kick off a jam-packed, condensed season.

“I was able to practice more, a whole lot more, and put in more work and time. But with not being able to play, you kind of still get that urge. You want to play a tournament and get in a competitive zone, but you just have to be patient,” he said. “You learn more about yourself. You learn about your determination and your heart. At the end of the day, I do think it ended up making me a better golfer, so when I do compete against the big names and the big schools, hopefully I’ll be ready. I think I will be.”

amcculloch@themonitor.com