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Oliver Betschart, 15, rewrites history on PGA Tour

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All smiles: Oliver Betschart, right, enjoys the moment alongside compatriot Michael Sims

As the opening round of the Butterfield Bermuda Championship got under way at Port Royal, The Royal Gazette joined the substantial crowd following the teen sensation as he made history in his debut on the PGA Tour

If the buzz and excitement surrounding Oliver Betschart in the build-up to the event made his involvement seem like a momentous moment, that’s because it was.

At just 15 years of age, Betschart is not just the youngest Bermudian to player to feature in a PGA Tour event since compatriot Kenny Leseur in 2019, but he is the youngest in a decade since Tianlang Guan made the cut in the Masters as a 14-year-old.

Only four players younger than Betschart have appeared on the tour this century with Guan joined by Lorens Chan, Michelle Wie West and one of the Bermudian’s opening-round group, Andy Zhang, who played in the 2012 US Open at the age of 14.

If there were any lingering nerves as Betschart approached his first tee shot under the glare of the anticipation of a home crowd and world media, you would have been hard-pressed to know.

With a final deep breath, he puffed out his chest and sent his shot straight down the fairway, setting the tone for a highly encouraging round which saw him end at one-over on the green of the 7th hole when play was suspended as a result of bad light.

Rewriting history: Oliver Betschart plays his first shot, at the 10th tee, to become the youngest Bermudian to to feature in a PGA Tour event (Photograph by Ras Mykkal)

“Walking up to that first tee shot all I could think about was just hitting it as well as I can,” said Betschart on his historic moment.

“The 10th hole is a pretty nice one to start on and I was happy with my shot. I definitely felt nervous approaching that first tee shot, but after that it became easier.

“It was amazing to have all of the home support around me and to compete on a home course. That’s an amazing feeling; the atmosphere was just electric all day.”

While no stranger to the event itself after acting as a volunteer in 2019, a caddy in 2021 and a member of staff last year, this was entirely different as Betschart found himself front and centre among the very players he had watched play throughout the years.

He could have been forgiven for being overawed by the occasion but through the highs, which included a memorable birdie in front of the grandstand on the 18th, to the lows such as finding the water on the 17th before rescuing bogey with a 20-yard putt, his demeanour did not change as he cut a figure of poise and composure, belying his years.

“That’s just in my character to be pretty composed,” said Betschart, who reflected on a constant reminder of his personal mantra “next shot”, on a wristband made for him by sister Darina before the qualifiers.

Memorable moment: Oliver Betschart celebrates his birdie putt on the 18th hole (Photograph by Ras Mykkal)

“I’ve been working hard on that sort of thing with my mental coach and just focusing on staying level-headed and just playing my game, not worrying about certain shots.

“The birdie on the 18th was definitely a highlight. Every year I’ve walked past that hole looking at it, wanting to achieve something there and now I’ve done it, which is a bit surreal in all honesty.

“However, I had to remember my motto of ‘next shot’, because for me that’s what it’s always about. Whether I have a good shot, or a bad one, it’s about focusing again on that next shot and moving on.”

Among the dedicated crowd covering every blade of grass in following the young Bermudian, as well as compatriot Michael Sims, was an excited yet nervous Betschart family, including father Marcus and mother Tamara, as well as grandparents Leo and Isabella.

Having helped introduce him to the sport at the tender age of five, it was a particularly proud moment for Betschart’s father to see his son fulfil a dream.

“It is just incredible to see him playing on a PGA Tour event,” said Marcus. “It’s a dream come true for me to actually see him being able to be on a stage like this where he is doing what he wants to do, his passion.

“As a family it’s just amazing. His grandparents are here watching him and for them to be able to see him doing this is just incredible.

“There are very few people in the world who have been able to play on the PGA Tour at his age.

“He’s achieved that as the youngest Bermudian to do so and so I think it’s onwards and upwards for him and we’ll be right behind him supporting him in whatever he wants to do next.”

Whatever transpires over the coming days and years, Betschart has already realised an ambition fulfilled by relatively few.

However, in typical unruffled fashion, he is taking it all in his stride.

“I’m just going to do the best I can tomorrow, try and take it all in and enjoy competing against these top players,” Betschart added.

“However, I’m here compete as a player, the same as anyone else because I earned my spot. I’m here to win like everyone else, that’s what I’m here to try to do.”

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Published November 10, 2023 at 7:58 am (Updated November 10, 2023 at 10:46 am)

Oliver Betschart, 15, rewrites history on PGA Tour

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