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  • Peter Schaffer

Silverman: Colorado golfer Shane Bertsch demonstrates a lesson for us all: Never quit

Many people would have quit. Touring pro golf can be cruel. Even if you’ve won a few million bucks over the decades, there are myriad expenses, including caddies and travel. Add in the cost of living in Denver with wife and kids. 

Miss enough cuts by a stroke and it can mess with your mind.  Lose tour status by a shot or two, and it can sicken your psyche. Add in health setbacks and many players lay down their clubs.

But not Shane Bertsch. This Colorado kid grew up in Evergreen, where his athletic parents, Tom and Dana Bertsch, had the Whippletree restaurant. Shane was a ski racer at Loveland. Like his mom, Shane was also a tennis phenom. In a 1994 Intermountain tournament, he played Andre Agassi in the first round. Shane lost but battled on to win the consolation championship.

Shane soon discovered another sport that rewarded power, finesse and coordination. Shane got a job at Evergreen G.C., a course at 7,220 feet elevation, owned by Denver and patrolled by elk. Next, Shane worked a way to play at Hiwan G.C., where the talented teen caught the eye of Bill Bisdorf, frequent winner of the Colorado Open at Hiwan. 

Bisdorf had played with many golf greats, but on Sundays, Bill golfed with his wife, Norma, at Denver’s Overland Park G.C.  The Bisdorfs took Shane under their wing and made the talented teenager part of their Sunday group.

Shane golfed collegiately at Texas A&M, turned pro, and played many years on many tours. Sometimes, Shane lost PGA tour status and got consigned to lower level pro tours, only to battle back repeatedly.

As 2020 senior competition approached, Shane had his bum knee surgically repaired. He kept fit and ready with one of the sharpest short games in the world. Colorado Golf Hall of Famer Tom Woodard told me the other day: “Shane’s like Steph Curry. Expect him to make it from anywhere.”

Shane’s tenacity paid off. In the pressure-packed PGA Champions Tour Qualifier in Scottsdale last December, Bertsch not only qualified, he won. He came from way behind, shooting back to back 65s to end the tournament.  2020 was looking to be great once Shane turned 50 in late March. 

Then came COVID. The first Champions’ tourney after Shane’s birthday was the first tournament canceled. Many more cancellations followed. Talk about bad breaks. Shane’s opportunity was vanishing even though Americans desperately wanted to play and watch golf, including the Champions’ Tour. 

Golf is extremely popular during this pandemic. The world witnessed Colorado’s Peyton Manning provide outstanding pandemic entertainment teaming with Tiger Woods to best Phil Mickelson and some hack named Brady. The Match proved golf was safe unless you were anywhere near the Tampa (?) QB.

Hosting tournaments is still problematic during a pandemic. The Champions Tour did not complete a 2020 tourney till Aug. 2 in Michigan. Shane competed and finished 45th.

The next tournament was in mid-August at Buffalo Ridge Springs in Missouri as part of the Charles Schwab Series at Big Cedar Lodge. The Colorado kid made himself comfy at the outset in the Ozarks. After an opening round 64, Shane assumed command with another sweet 64 and a four-shot lead.

Senior events last three days. Shane was paired this final round with all-time Champions Tour money leader Bernhard Langer and Kenny Perry, another accomplished veteran.  Playing just OK, Shane’s lead dwindled, and by the par five eighteenth hole, Perry had a one-shot lead and Bertsch was tied with Langer and a golfer named Glenn Day.

That is when good fortune smiled on the pride of Evergreen. Perry hit a great-looking drive that bounced too hard, hit a cart path, and ended near a rock wall. On his downswing, Perry clipped the rock wall and missed the ball completely. Whoa! A whiff! By a pro! Perry advanced his next shot and then smashed a 260-yard shot to the green before two-putting for bogey.

A clutch chip by Shane led to a tap-in par and a four-way tie to be broken on the par five first hole. Shane told me this downhill dogleg right par five at Buffalo Ridge reminded him of mountain holes he’d mastered at Evergreen, Hiwan, and more recently, at Pradera. Shane belted a drive 339 yards that barely ran into the left rough.

Hitting from a funky lie, Shane had the 231-yard shot pictured perfectly in his Colorado brain. Shane needed to clear a bunker 182 yards away and plotted a low trajectory shot that would run 50 yards dead downhill toward the pin. Shane struck the ball perfectly and watched his ball follow the curvature of the earth leaving him 20 feet above the hole. 

His fellow competitors had no chance. The walk-off eagle landed and Shane had won a Champions Tour title with first place money of $450,000, plus so many perks. 

This is not the end. It is just the beginning. Look for Shane Bertsch to win lots more. Perseverance leads to prosperity. Bad luck can change to good luck. Keep your head down. Don’t quit.

By: Craig Silverman (Colorado Sun)

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