Ron Agostini

Bettencourt has PGA berth in sight

Matt Bettencourt of Modesto has paddled hard against golf's powerful current for years.

He didn't hit a single shot in NCAA competition following his graduation from Beyer High. Now 33, Bettencourt has deployed a homemade swing for six long years in his lonely fight up golf's ladder.

Could he be reaching a breakthrough?

Bettencourt boldfaced his name in golf circles 11 days ago with his victory in the Oregon Classic on the Nationwide Tour, the game's final jump-off point below the PGA Tour. He held off U.S. Amateur champion Bubba Dickerson to win a first-place check worth $90,000, by far the largest of his career.

More important, however, he's put himself in position to reach the destination -- the Tour -- he's desired for years.

"It has been a grind, a real grind," Bettencourt told pgatour.com after his victory. As his caddy "Montana" Russ Bethal said, "There's a journeyman. There's an absolute journeyman."

Bettencourt has won $193,843 this year, 19th on the Nationwide money list. The top 25 at the end of the season earn their Tour promotions. Four tournaments remain, beginning with the WNB Golf Classic next week in Midland, Texas.

The veteran Modestan can't afford missed cuts. The slope can be slippery -- only $4,737 separates seven players between 17th and 23rd place.

His victory came attached with good and bad news, good in that he scored his first Nationwide win, and bad in that it was one of the smallest purses of the year.

More promising, however, is his red-hot form.

Bettencourt was ranked an obscure 77th through 23 events until his putter finally awakened. He placed a solo fifth at the Albertsons Boise Open, the springboard to his epic week in Oregon.

A third-round 65 vaulted him to the top, and he led by five strokes with five holes left during the final round. Though his lead melted to one with three to go, he stabilized for a two-stroke win.

Bettencourt's modest pedigree contrasts with many of the Nationwide's bright lights. He routinely matches his game against Amateur champions such as Ricky Barnes of Stockton and Colt Knost, along with former Tour winners trying to regain their playing privileges. A heavy schedule on various tours over the years has resulted in upgraded experience and more comfort in his surroundings. His final-round scores have improved this year.

The victory also secured his berth in the year-ending Nationwide Tour Championship and its $1 million purse Nov. 6-9 in McKinney, Texas. The event welcomes only the top 60 money winners, so Bettencourt now can finish with a nice check.

And a berth in golf's big time next year.

TRINITAS -- Officials at Trinitas, the robust 18-hole course near Valley Springs which has been barred from opening, have submitted an environmental impact report. The Calaveras County planning commission will act on Trinitas during its Nov. 6 meeting. If the planners approve, they'll send the proposal to the county's board of supervisors. Trinitas, a semi-private facility which could have opened 18 months ago, has been locked in a bureaucratic tug-of-war with county officials and opponents. It has received support recently, however, from various county organizations. "Our family has committed $40 million to Calaveras County. We haven't wavered from that commitment," owner Mike Nemee said.

THE SHAG BAG -- Modesto pro Marina Martinez will compete in the pro-am portion of the seventh annual Save Mart Shootout on Sunday, Oct. 12, at Riverbend near Madera. The tournament's elite division, featuring Rocco Mediate, George Lopez, Peter Jacobsen, Jason Gore, Matt Kuchar, Nick Watney, Leta Lindley, Brittany Lincicome and others, will vie Monday. Tickets are available at all Save Mart stores or by visiting savemartshootout.net. ... Modesto Municipal's Muni Niners raised more than $1,200 last month during a "Rally for the Cure" benefit tournament. More than 50 women from various clubs in the area showed their support for the event, which sent all its proceeds to the Susan Komen Foundation to fight breast cancer.

HOLES-IN-ONE -- Bob Carico, Modesto, 157-yard eighth at Creekside, 6-iron. ... Steve Collins, Modesto, eighth at Creekside, 8-iron. ... Dale Thayer, Modesto, 179-yard eighth at Del Rio CC (Oak), 3-iron.

Bee sports columnist Ron Agostini can be reached at ragostini@modbee.com or 578-2302.

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