[PHOTO: Gregory Shamus]
The Butterfield Bermuda Championship historically has one of the weaker fields on the PGA Tour, and a glance at the list of those teeing it up this week shows the trend will continue. Yet there’s one player who’s using the tournament to make a name for himself.
That would be Oliver Betschart, a 15-year-old local prodigy. Betschart earned his spot in this week’s Bermuda Championship through a 54-hole qualifier, posting a final-round 68 and surviving a competitor’s missed birdie try at the final hole to gain entry. If a 15-year-old playing on tour sounds like a big deal, it is. Betschart is the youngest player to play in a PGA Tour-sanctioned event in almost a decade since Tianlang Guan competed in a handful of events as a 14-year-old during the 2013 season. Along with Guan, only Michelle Wie West, Andy Zhang and Lorens Chan were younger than Betschart to make a start on the PGA Tour this century.
While Betschart acknowledged he is feeling nervous ahead of this week’s start, he also pointed to a message that’s plastered on a bracelet.
“My sister made it before the qualifier. It says ‘The next shot’ on it,” Betschart said yesterday when speaking to the media. “And it’s just kind of a reminder to me, don’t focus on anything else except the shot that I have in the present moment.”
Betschart plays a lot of golf on the Southern Texas PGA Junior Golf Tour, but calls Bermuda his home and Port Royal his home course. He said he’s played the track “a thousand times”, and proudly pointed out his made his first hole-in-one on the course when he was seven. Betschart concedes he may be “70 yards” behind his competitors, but is hoping his local knowledge keeps him in the mix.
“It’s all in the wind. It’s a tricky course, but when that wind picks up it just becomes so much more difficult. I think that’s what the players out here are going to have to look for now and focus on wind.”
Betschart has been making the most of his opportunity this week, trying to pick the minds of tour players. He played a practice round with Ben Crane and former Open champion Stewart Cink. He also has already gone viral, thanks to an Instagram post that showed all the credentials he’s had at past Bermuda Championships working in different capacities.
“I’ve been now volunteering and caddieing and also helping out the PGA staff over the years, so it hasn’t been a lot of time to just go out and watch, but when I have, just follow around the best players, just learn from their practice routines to what they’re… how long they’re taking with their caddies, just a bit of everything,” Betschart said.
To mark the occasion, Betschart will be playing his first and second round with Zhang, who played in the 2012 U.S. Open at 14 and now plays on the Asian Development Tour. Betschart knows the odds are against him but he wouldn’t put a prediction on the week. “I’m trying not to look too far ahead into the future. It’s just kind of focusing on that first tee shot on Thursday. Just kind of staying focused and staying in the moment.”
He may be 15, but Betschart sounds like a veteran already.