Used to be a dream

Mike Van Sickle always dreamed about playing on the PGA tour. The MU junior's continued success on the course brings that dream ever closer to becoming reality.

He was one stroke away.

That's how close junior Mike Van Sickle came last summer to playing on one of golf's greatest stages – the U.S. Open.

"There was a big playoff one shot lower than my 36-hole total [at sectional qualifying]. So I missed a playoff for the US open by a shot," said the 21-year-old from Wexford, Penn.

Qualifying for the Open would have been the latest in the long line of impressive accomplishments Van Sickle has achieved over the last two years. That list includes three tournament wins last year at Marquette, winning the Pennsylvania State Open in the summer and claiming Marquette's first-ever NCAA Tournament berth in golf.

"I think winning the state open was my biggest accomplishment of last year. [Coach Tim Grogan], he kind of told me how big an accomplishment that is because at that age [20] you don't really realize. He let me know that was a pretty big deal."

Van Sickle's NCAA Tournament appearance was also a big deal.

"It was really an honor," said Van Sickle. "Being the first is a special thing because there will never ever be another first."

Van Sickle's 71.91 scoring average in 2006-07 broke the university's single-season mark. He was All-Big East by virtue of placing second at the conference tournament, and he was an honorable-mention All American. With those distinctions under his belt he was all but a shoo-in for the NCAA's, right?

"No one from Marquette had ever been selected and the committees are a little political, so someone has to vouch for you," said Van Sickle. "Numbers speak for themselves but only to a certain degree. I wasn't really sure the committee would respect Marquette golf since no one had ever been there before.

"They listed the 27 teams in each regional and listed the 6 individuals, and when they got to the Central Region, which was going to be my regional, I was the fifth individual out of six. So we're sitting three and it's ‘one, two, three,' and I was like, ‘Come on, am I eve going to be selected?' So there was definitely a little extra anxiety."

Van Sickle has continued to earn respect this season. He led the Golden Eagles to two tournament wins in the fall, and in March he shot back-to-back sub-70 rounds to win the Ron Smith/ USF Invitational for the second-straight year. His score helped carry Marquette to a second-place finish out of the 21-team field.

Yet Van Sickle's most notable feat to date is still his near-miss for the U.S. Open.

In almost qualifying for the Open, Van Sickle scored in the top five out of up to 70 players at an 18-hole local qualifier, then squared off with a field that included non-exempt Tour players for 36 holes at sectionals in Columbus, Ohio.

"I actually played with Mark Wilson, who won the Honda Invitational last spring," said Van Sickle. "I was at the qualifying site where the majority of the Tour players go. There were more spots, but the field was a lot stronger."

Despite playing against stiffer competition, Van Sickle fell just short of being one of the 23 players to advance from his sectional to the U.S. Open. Making the 2007 Open would have been especially sweet for Van Sickle because it was held at Oakmont Country Club, a mere 20 minutes from his home in Wexford.

"I had played there numerous times and it was a course that I really feel suited my game," said Van Sickle. "I actually got out to play Oakmont two weeks after the Open and shot a 66. That just added to the disappointment."

A huge part of Van Sickle's success has been his ability to drive the ball a long way off the tee.

"I hit it pretty far," said Van Sickle. "It really makes up for it when you're hitting two clubs less into greens than competitors."

"It is a little humbling when you hit a good tee shot and are 50 yards back of him," said teammate Mike McDonald. "I just blame it on a gust of wind or something to make me feel better."

Van Sickle estimates his average drive at around 300 yards and thinks he can hit 325 on a good day.

"He is probably one of the longest hitters I have ever played with," said McDonald. "And the kid makes a ton of birdies out there. He's got a way of getting it around the course, even on bad days, and shooting a good number."

Another of Van Sickle's allies on the course is his calm, cool demeanor, something he copies from the game of his favorite pro golfer, Fred Couples.

"That one thing I try to model when I'm out there. Don't try to show your frustration too much. When something good happens, act like you've been there before. When something bad happens, be mature enough that you're not going to throw a tantrum and start swearing."

McDonald agrees that Van Sickle is the picture of serenity when it counts, but points out that the junior still has a competitive edge.

"He keeps pretty calm in tournaments, but he'll let you know how he's feeling if you're just out playing a round with him sometimes. Mike's temper is funny, but it normally just comes out in practice."

While his cool may come from Couples, Van Sickle's greatest inspiration on the course has been his father, Gary Van Sickle, who covers professional golf for Sports Illustrated.

"I started playing when I was three, and he was a big proponent in my life growing up," said Van Sickle. "He used to take me out after elementary school and we would go play 5 holes. Still today, I just love going out and playing with my dad, and I'm actually capable of beating him now."

Van Sickle appreciates the fact that his father, also a successful amateur in his day, never forced the game on his son.

"It wasn't like he was pushing me to golf. He was pushing me to do something I loved, and I would up loving the game of golf, so it wound up good for everyone."

While Van Sickle, a broadcast major, said that he could pursue a career in golf commentating after college, his main aspiration is to one day play on the PGA Tour.

"That's the goal right now. Used to be the dream, but I feel like it's a little more realistic right now, so its become a goal of mine. I just need to keep working hard. Most players don't make it on tour right after school. It's a chore to try to get all the way to the top in golf. You're only young once, so I gotta give it a shot."

NOTE: While this article was in production, Marquette, led by junior Ted Gray, captured the university's first Big East golf title. Gray finished atop the field with a five-under 211. Van Sickle finished fourth to earn all-conference for the second-straight year. Michael Bielawski also earned all-conference honors by finishing fifth. By winning the Big East Tournament, Marquette also earned the school's first team bid to the NCAA Tournament.

Jeff Wolf is a sophomore majoring in Advertising. He is the head student writer for MarquetteHoops.com and is also an assistant sports director for Marquette Radio.

Mark Cunningham is a sophomore majoring in Broadcasting and Electronic Communications. Brian Henry, a junior majoring in Broadcasting and Electronic Communications, also contributed to this story.


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