Yes, I’ve heard of Golden Tee.
No, I’ve never heard of a national championship for the video game.
“The reaction I get when I say Golden Tee golf is they know the game from seeing it in a bar or what the hell is that?” Josh Mertzig said. “It’s hard to tell someone I play a game in a bar that makes money, but it is no different than say darts. If I told you I play darts in a bunch of tournaments, or pool tournaments, that seems like a logical thing.”
The 44-year-old Sheboygan resident who graduated from North in 1993 not only competed in the 2019 Golden Tee World Championship at The Orleans Hotel in Las Vegas June 22-23, he won $1,000 by finishing in a tie for 25th place.
Not bad for someone who does not golf on an actual course.
“I’ve never golfed real golf in my life,” Mertzig said. “I can play a little bit of mini-golf, but not real golf.
“I’ve always been a video gamer, mainly console gaming. I go back to the original PlayStation, Atari, all that stuff. I’ve played a lot of online gaming on computers. Growing up, I’ve played in a lot of pool leagues. And when you’re waiting around to play pool, what do you do? For me and a couple of my friends, it became time to play Golden Tee in between our pool or dart league games. It got to a point where I just focused on Golden Tee.”
It all started in 2000, when a friend suggested Mertzig “check out this golf game” at a bar.
“It became just like pool and darts,” Mertzig said. “It was something to do when you’re out having a couple of beers.”
Sometime later, he was competing in tournaments all over the country and even won around a total of $30,000 one year.
But when Mertzig was at the top of his Golden Tee game, national championships were no longer an annual thing.
They came back three years ago, and Mertzig was all in.
“It’s always been a life goal and on my bucket list,” he said.
Mertzig missed qualifying the last two years but finally made the cut at the end of April.
To do so, participants had week-long increments and Mertzig guesses he played – and payed for – 230 games at Doug’s Skip’er Inn during that time.
Qualifiers had to pay their way to get to Vegas, but even the last-place finisher got $450, so Mertzig says it was worth it.
Seventy-four people were in the tournament, which was streamed live online and will be featured on ESPN in August.
And what was one of the first things he did in Sin City?
“Of course I bet on myself,” said Mertzig, whose odds were 60-1 and then 65-1. “I threw a $20 bet on myself just to have the ticket. I had to be realistic and spent a couple hundred dollars betting on other players. I did not, however, pick the winner.”
The first day the top 32 golfers advanced to the gold bracket, the next 32 were in the silver bracket, and the final 10 did not continue.
Mertzig was No. 32 after golfing on five courses.
“I never looked up on the stage to realize everyone was done,” Mertzig said. “Running across the auditorium was one of the top players in the world that I’ve been great friends with and hugs me. He says, ‘you did it, you got in!’ I was like, ‘what? You’ve got to be kidding me.’”
The final day was head-to-head, double-elimination format But he lost both his matches.
“It’s a major accomplishment just being in that top bracket,” Mertzig said. “At that point, you’re playing with the top 32 players in the world.”
Mertzig, who says he will “absolutely” try to qualify again next year, returned home and received more good news.
His personal Golden Tee video game he bought with his fiance, like the big ones at bars or some restaurants, was no longer in a crowded storage room.
While Mertzig was in Vegas, she cleaned that area by adding couches and pictures, and surprised her future husband with his new man cave.
“I was in such shock,” he said.