LINCOLN, Neb.--It was one small step for a man, one baby step closer to the PGA Tour.
Team Van Sickle (Mike, the player; me, the caddie dad) survived and thrived in the preliminary stage of the PGA Tour's qualifying school tournament here. Mike played superbly, posting his second 6-under-par 64 of the week in Saturday's final round. He finished 72 holes at 269, 11 under par, and rallied to win the event by one shot.
The bad news is, winning didn't technically matter. It was a pass-fail event. The top 43 players and ties in the 84-man field advance to the next round, still officially known as the first stage (even though it's actually the second). There are two more stages to survive to make it to the PGA Tour. So we're on to the next round. The tour will tell us which site Mike will be sent to -- probably Pinewild in the Pinehurst area -- next month. After that, we're obligated to send them another check for $2,800 as the entry fee (on top of the $2,500 we're already out for this stage). Hey, if you want to make an omelette, you've got to break some money-market CDs.
This is Mike's career path. He graduated from Marquette University in May, was a first team Division I All-American, won the Byron Nelson Award, led the NCAA in scoring average and birdies per round and finished his college tour with 11 tournament victories. He played in two PGA Tour events over the summer, narrowly missing the cut, and a Nationwide Tour event, where he missed by one.
Mike began the final round of the prelim five shots back. We didn't find out he finished first until after we returned to the Cornhusker, a sweet downtown Marriott hotel, just in time to hear a big groan from the ballroom, where a big party crowd of Husker fans were stunned to see Virginia Tech score in the final 30 seconds and defeat Nebraska. There was only one guy posting scores on the board at Yankee Hill, a pretty good semi-private course that hosted the tournament, and it took a good 30 minutes before he finally put Mike's linescore up. We left after that, not waiting for the final two threesomes. Betsy, his mother, looked up the scores online back in the hotel room and discovered that the leaders kind of tanked and Mike finished first by one stroke.
It was a pretty easy 64, just like his one in the second round. After a monster drive on the opening hole, he hit a 9-iron approach to the par-5 green. It spun back and, according to a greenside observer, danced right over the lip of the cup and just missed being a double eagle. It rolled back to the front fringe, where Mike two-putted from 12 feet for birdie. He rolled in a 15-footer for birdie at the second hole after a nice wedge shot. At No. 4, a long-and-mean par 4 whose green was guarded by water and whose pin was all the way back, Mike dropped a 6-iron shot that spun left to five feet for another birdie.
He made the turn at four under par and added another birdie at the par-5 10th when his eagle chip from just left of the green stopped inches away. The one glitch of the day came at No. 12, a long par 3 where the pin was tucked back left. Mike's grip slipped on his forward swing and apparently he had too much club, anyway. He pulled it left and it landed up on a hill, behind a bunker guarding the back of the green. Since the green sloped away from him, he was pretty much in jail. An attempt to skip a chip shot through the bunker didn't get on the green, then he chipped on and missed the putt. It was an annoying double bogey.
He bounced back with a wedge shot to six inches for a tap-in birdie at the next, chipped to two feet for a kick-in birdie at the par-5 14th. He missed good birdie chances at 15 and 17 and decided to go for the green at the 382-yard 18th hole. It's a par 4 that bends to the left. Mike cut the corner with a big drive that caught the cart path and took a huge bounce. We found it in the back fringe and he chipped to two feet for a final birdie. Yeah, a 64 with a double bogey is a good day.
Onward and upward. One step closer.