Here's a guy to cheer for in 2010: Shane Bertsch.
He shot a 65 in the sixth and final round of Q school in West Palm Beach, Fla., to move from T50 to T15 and regain his playing privileges for 2010. (Top 25 and ties qualify.)
The hot finish put an end to nearly three years of mishaps that would put Wile E. Coyote to shame and left Bertsch, 39, wondering if he would ever get back to the PGA Tour. First came the vertigo, then a costly miscommunication with the Tour, and finally a clumsy fall.
"I'm glad I got everything behind me at Tour school," Bertsch says. "Otherwise I'd still be bitter about it."
Bertsch started feeling dizzy as he stood over putts at the end of 2006. He felt it again at the Sony Open in Hawaii in '07, and then again at the Bob Hope, but he played through it. Somehow he made both cuts. Soon the dizziness got so bad he couldn't play, and he withdrew from the Buick Invitational in San Diego.
Back home in Denver in spring of 2007, Bertsch underwent multiple MRIs and CT scans, but specialists were stumped. He was prescribed two medications that helped, but 2007 was a bust. He made just one more start, at the Players Championship (73-78, MC).
Bertsch used a medical exemption to play in 2008. To earn exempt status for 2009, he says the Tour told him he would have to win as much in 28 tournaments as the 125th player made in 2007. When he did so with six tournaments left to play, he asked a Tour official if his standing was secure. According to Bertsch, the official assured him he was indeed safe.
Bertsch had been meaning to bury his father's ashes for five years, and with his status looking settled by late October '08, the time seemed right. He and his wife, Monica, and their daughters, Brianna, 7, and Stella, 3, joined Bertsch's mother and siblings in North Dakota to say a final goodbye.
But Bertsch was not fine. His 2008 earnings were enough merely to give him status for the rest of '08, not '09. The week of the last official event of 2008, the Children's Miracle Network Classic at Disney, he learned he was in danger of losing his card for '09, having fallen to 124th in '08 earnings.
It felt like a punch to the gut.
"I was in a daze," he says. "I went from having nothing to lose to all of a sudden feeling pressure every shot."
Which may be why he missed the cut. Martin Laird made an eight-foot putt on the 72nd hole two days later, finished T21 (worth $50K) and nudged Bertsch to 126th by $11,500.
Taking a week off to go to North Dakota had been a terrible mistake.
Bertsch is not a fatalist. He once lost a junior tennis match to Andre Agassi 6-0, 6-1, but turned around and won the consolation bracket. He missed qualifying for the 2003 Nationwide Tour Championship by $18 and bounced back, as always.
But now Bertsch felt cheated. A Tour official had told him he'd done enough, but he hadn't, and he couldn't even enter the December 2008 Q school — he'd missed the registration. At home in Denver, he pleaded his case to the powers that be at Tour headquarters in Ponte Vedra, Fla., to no avail.
Then this: While padding around his house in socks in the fall of 2008, he descended the wooden staircase to his basement, slipped on the last step and broke his right foot. While spending seven weeks in a cast, Bertsch decided not to fight the Tour. He would man-up and try to play his way back. But his foot did not heal, and so, as with the vertigo, he began to seek second opinions.
Bertsch eventually learned he had suffered ligament damage along with a broken metatarsal. And so 24 weeks after his fall, he had surgery, which didn't totally work and necessitated another operation 12 weeks later.
The motor home Bertsch uses to travel the Tour with his family sat idle as payments continued coming due.
The 2009 season was also a total loss. Bertsch got another medical exemption, but it would only get him into 13 tournaments in 2010.
It wasn't until this year's Q school, where he made eight birdies over his final 22 holes, that he regained enough status to get into the season-opening Sony Open, one of his favorite tournaments. The whole Bertsch family will make the trip to Hawaii. To welcome Shane home from Q school, the family made a sign with a drawing of a hula girl, courtesy of Brianna.
"I've got to put it all behind me and take advantage," says Bertsch, who no longer ices his foot or feels dizzy. "I'm just super excited to get back and get playing again."
As the congratulatory sign said: Hawaii, here we come.