Shane Bertsch has never accepted handouts. He’s been a grinder his entire career.
From 1993 through 2018, he fought for 194 starts on the PGA TOUR. In years that he only earned a smattering of starts on TOUR, he played the Korn Ferry Tour. Well into his late 40s, he was still playing more than 10 times a year on the KFT.
With his 50th birthday approaching in 2020 (March), he set his sights on PGA TOUR Champions.
He also targeted playing the Sony Open in Hawaii.
Let’s back up.
In 1995, Bertsch finished T4 at the TOUR Qualifying Tournament and earned status to play a full season in 1996 on TOUR. That meant his first Sony Open in Hawaii, a place where his family vactioned as a kid.
On the flight over to Honolulu in 1996, he had a stiff back. When he landed and made his way to registration, he met Elroy Chong, who worked on his back and got him ready to play. They struck up a relationship beyond just doctor-patient and Chong began to introduce Bertsch to influential people at Waialae Country Club, home of the Sony Open in Hawaii.
One of the people Bertsch met and became friendly with was Ray Stosik, the longtime tournament director of the Sony Open in Hawaii.
This April, while Bertsch turned 50 and was waiting on the PGA TOUR Champions to return to play during the pandemic, he placed a call to Ray.
“I told Ray that if I win on PGA TOUR Champions, he has to give me a sponsor’s exemption into Sony so I can play the week before (Mitsubishi Electric Championship at) Hualalai,” Bertsch said Tuesday. “He said ‘You’ve got a deal.’”
If you press Bertsch, he was betting on himself, but the odds were long.
“I would have to clarify myself as a definite true journeyman,” Bertsch said this summer. “Since 1995 I’ve had status on some tour, but never was a steady player. I had a lot of injuries where I never really got into a rhythm.”
His golfing life changed quickly. In just his second start ever on PGA TOUR Champions, he drained an eagle putt on the first playoff hole at the Charles Schwab Series at Buffalo Dunes to win.
The surprising win guaranteed him a spot in next week’s Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai in Kona. But it also reminded him to call Ray.
“I had to come through with a win, which wasn’t easy,” said Bertsch. “But Ray held up his end of the deal and I’m thrilled to play this week at the Sony Open.”
After winning in Missouri last summer, Bertsch was asked what his signature moment in golf was.
“I’ve always had a hard time saying what my most special moment in golf is, but without a doubt it was that putt on the first playoff hole.”
The putt changed the course of his golfing life. Bertsch netted more than $500,000 in essentially half a season in 2020 and ranks 20th on the Charles Schwab Cup standings heading into part two of the wraparound season.
And he gets to warm up for Hualalai at the Sony Open in Hawaii because he bet on himself … again.