A year ago, 38-year-old Tommy Biershenk missed his PGA Tour card by a shot.
Since Biershenk turned pro in 1997, he’s gone to Q-school every fall, including five or six trips to finals. Each time he had to wait another year playing on the Nationwide and/or mini tours — except for 2005 when he was broke and went to work on a farm for about a year, while also starting a golf cart business that ended up losing money — to try again. Finally, in his fifteenth attempt he fulfilled his lifelong dream.
I happened to remember Biershenk’s close call in 2010, along with feeling bad for him after running into him later that day and hearing his disappointment while he rehashed the last few holes. He was paired with my old pal Andres Gonzales in the final round in 2010 at Orange County National.
I walked with the group in their last nine holes and recall an unfavorable bounce that Biershenk caught on his approach shot on the par-5 16th. He was in the rough, so the ball was going to come out hot, but he played it perfectly, landing it short of the green and it looked like it was going to run up next to the back left pin. Except it took a hard hop and he hit the 8-iron a little too well, so it ran through the green just into a tight lie in the rough. He didn’t get up and down and missed the number by a stroke.
This time around at PGA West, Biershenk, who lives in Boiling Springs, South Carolina, finished tied for fifth at 14-under for the week, six shots clear of the cut-off mark. He knew he was in good position, but it’s not over until the last hole, the 18th at Nicklaus Tournament, which happens to be a difficult and intimidating hole with water running all along the right side, basically from tee to green (just ask all the guys who doubled it).
“The last thing you want to do is think of a way to piss it away,” he said, referring to his thought process on the last hole.
When he safely reached the green with 5-iron, he could finally breathe and enjoy the moment.
“Everything lifted off of me,” he said on Monday after signing for a four-under 68. “It’s exciting. I can’t explain how excited I am right now. It’ll hit me later, I’m sure. I’ve been at it a long time. I’m 38 years old and been a pro since 1997, and this has been my goal, and it took this long.”
How did he control his nerves?
“I’m not in control,” he said. “I put God in control of my life and everything that I do. I’ve got nothing to lose. I’ve got Nationwide status, and I can just go up from here. I went out and just took it one shot at a time, and like I said, most importantly, stayed patient. I tried not to get too fast. I get walking fast when I get nervous.
“It was a long week, and I’m worn out, and I’m sure the rest of the guys are. I’m excited that I played good, and it’s a great feeling. It’s a burden off my shoulders right now because it’s something I’ve been after all my life.”
Biershenk was still processing the reality, but his elation was contagious. He even looked like he was tearing up a bit, which then almost makes you do the same. Many say when you finally earn your card, it’s validation that you are indeed good enough to be playing at the highest level. Until then, there’s always a hint of uncertainty — even if it’s the tiniest bit — whether or not you’re good enough and belong.
“The longer it goes, it seems like the harder you try, and I try to go out there and relax and just let it happen,” he said, referring to how difficult it is for others to understand the experience of trying to pass Q-school finals year after year. “I feel like my game is as good as most of the guys ‑‑ some of the best players in the world. Just my time hasn’t come, and I knew if I stayed patient, wait and keep my head held high that things would come around. Fortunately, this year I reached my goal.”
His journey is only beginning — at least the one where he starts the 2012 season as a PGA Tour member — but it’s impossible not to be happy and root for the guy. After all, it did take a lot of patience, guts and determination.