Van Sickle, Kelly geared up to play US Bank

Van Sickle, Kelly geared up to play US Bank

MILWAUKEE (AP) Mike Van Sickle got his first chance to play a PGA tour event last week and the former Marquette standout who plans to turn pro later this year learned his first big lesson.

He doesn’t need to hit every shot as hard as he can. Now when he makes mistakes, he’ll mutter under his breath about a little white dog that can’t keep its nose out of trouble.

Van Sickle will tee off Thursday afternoon for the first round of the U.S. Bank Championship, a tournament that’s looking for a sponsor to continue in 2010.

Van Sickle had planned the Milwaukee tournament to be his first PGA event. But the 22-year-old also received a sponsor’s exemption to the John Deere Classic in Silvis, Ill. last week, shooting 1-under par but missing the cut.

“I need to scale back a little bit when I’m out on the course,” Van Sickle said Wednesday. “I was hitting it well and because I was hitting it well and I also had all the adrenaline and nerves going, I was kind of swinging 100 percent at every shot, every club.”

Van Sickle may only get one chance to swing through this tournament if it disappears after 42 years, but Jerry Kelly said he and Steve Stricker are working on a detailed plan to bring the tournament back next season on a different date so it doesn’t back up against the British Open. U.S. Bank announced earlier this year it’s not picking up an option to continue as host and tournament organizers say a title sponsor will be essential for it to return.

Kelly said he’s had to stay mum on specifics, but believes the tour is interested in keeping an event in Milwaukee. Several PGA tour events are feeling the economic crunch and new dates may be available next season.

“I might be Alice in Wonderland a little bit, but I’ll tell you what, we got a heck of a rabbit hole going,” said Kelly, who skipped the British as a show of support for this event. “A lot of people may think it’s a fantasy, but I would like to think I’m 80 (percent), 90 percent solid that we’re going to get something done. We’ve got too many balls rolling in the right direction to think that, you know, we can’t close the deal.”

The tournament is rich with history – Tiger Woods got his pro start here in 1996 and a host of legends like Sam Snead, Gary Player, Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus finished second but never won the event. But Woods never returned after getting a $2,544 check for finishing tied for 60th and neither did Nicklaus after his stop in 1985.

Defending champion Richard S. Johnson is skipping the event to play the British Open and the 6,759-yard, par-70 Brown Deer Park Golf Course has had damage to deal with after the 17th green was vandalized several weeks ago.

None of that could keep Kelly away. He said he felt obligated to fans in Wisconsin who he said weren’t showing up like they should.

“I called out the fans in at least two or three different interviews,” said Kelly, of Madison, Wis. “I just thought to myself, ‘How can I call them out, you have to come, you have to be here, and then not show up myself?’ It’s a situation that was becoming dire and looking bleak. I don’t feel that way as much anymore, but I had to put my money where my mouth is.”

Meanwhile, Van Sickle hopes Thursday’s first round is a launching pad toward a successful pro career after his amateur status ends following the Walker Cup in September.

Back in front of his college town fans, he plans to have former teammate Mike McDonald carry his bag and share their college memories. While at Marquette, a woman would often walk two dogs on campus – constantly yelling at one while showing abundant affection to the other.

“This little white dog named Peaches … must be the spawn of Satan, because she is constantly yelling at her,” Van Sickle said. “That’s kind of our new word in lieu of any sort of swearing. If something is wrong, it’s ‘Ah! Peaches!”’

What reaction does Van Sickle expect from the gallery when he slices a shot into the rough?

“I think they’ll just kind of look at me weird, like, ‘What is he doing? Why is he talking about fruit?”’

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