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Golfer turned poker player now supports others in world of big blinds

Updated May 7, 2017 - 12:10 pm

Shane Sigsbee grew up playing golf in McKinney, Texas, located 37 miles north of Dallas and one of those Southwestern towns with a water tower as a primary landmark. He became good enough to attend and compete collegiately at Notre Dame.

He is 32 now and scheduled to play a U.S. Open qualifier on Monday at SouthShore Golf Club in Henderson.

He also has little chance of advancing to a sectional and absolutely none at making the real thing next month at Erin Hills in Wisconsin.

I mean, he has less chance of contending than LaVar Ball does topping Nike for shoe sales this year.

“A pipe dream,” Sigsbee said. “To think the way my game is now that I could get into a U.S. Open … maybe a 1-in-1,000 chance. But you know, the entry fee is barely more than some green fees I pay, so I will happily pay it while adding the bonus of a real long shot on a lottery ticket to have a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

His is an existence based on odds.

And what a story it is.

Have you ever wondered how a guy goes from day trader in Chicago to poker player in all parts of the globe to forming a company based in Las Vegas that now financially supports 60 or so folks worldwide who have made the game of antes and bluffs and raises their profession?

Me either.

But it’s fascinating.

He was burned out on golf when graduation arrived at Notre Dame in 2007, so he began a career as an equity derivatives trader on the Chicago Board Options Exchange while continuing to play the card game he learned at age 13.

He was in Scotland with Team USA and at night, the older kids taught the younger ones a certain card game.

Sigsbee, now a Southern Highlands resident, was hooked from his first big blind.

When the markets crashed in 2009 and traders everywhere were finding themselves out of work, Sigsbee happened to win a local poker tournament, cashed a little more than $200,000 and convinced his then-girlfriend and now wife Rachael it would be an adventure to travel the world as he played events.

“No matter where I went, from Las Vegas to Australia to Monte Carlo, I kept meeting players who said they had backers,” Sigsbee said. “I had no idea what that meant. I eventually learned it was someone who puts up the capital to support a player’s career and takes a percentage of the action in return, but it always seemed to be a friend or family member.

“Successful traders started the company I had worked for and backed our traders. I thought, ‘Why not find some talented poker players and back them like traders?’ I started backing three guys in 2010, am up to about 60 now and feel like I haven’t worked a day in the last seven years. I just enjoy the interaction with poker players and figuring out how best to optimize our operation.”

His company is Imawhale Staking Group, which promotes itself as, “a proven-effective structured approach to developing our clients into winning poker players, and giving them the support system they need to succeed.”

He has played the Main Event at the World Series of Poker three times, his best finish being 180th in 2014. He golfs at a plus-1.6 handicap, having won some local and regional amateur tournaments.

He was a high school teammate of current PGA Tour member Hunter Mahan and one of Sigsbee’s closest friends, whom he golfed with almost daily growing up in McKinney, is Brittany Lang, the 2016 U.S. Women’s Open champion.

It makes you wonder: How have his two passions mixed in terms of execution?

What makes a great poker player a great golfer, and vise versa?

“There are similarities between them to draw on,” Sigsbee said. “Tactical decisions. You plot around a golf course much the same way you plot around a game of poker. You can’t play every shot aggressively or you will get in all sorts of trouble, just like you can’t do so with every hand, or you’re going to bust out.

“Poker has changed so much. It’s so much more sophisticated now than back in the day — the training and software and coaching that’s available to our guys. You can’t stay stagnant these days.”

So he guides them, backs them, supports them in every manner for a return on investment, while golf has become a recreational endeavor that he hopes 1-year old daughter Riley Mae one day embraces.

Which means while Shane Sigsbee likely doesn’t stand a prayer of advancing past Monday’s qualifier, he doesn’t mind playing such long odds.

When it comes to that, he has done pretty well for himself.

Contact columnist Ed Graney at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “Seat and Ed” on Fox Sports 98.9 FM and 1340 AM from 2 to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.

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