Birdie barrage pulls Van Sickle step closer to U.S. Open
By The Tribune-Review
Published: Wednesday, May 9, 2012, 12:50 a.m.
Mike Van Sickle shot 65 Monday during a practice round at Quicksilver Golf Club in Midway.
He almost duplicated that effort Tuesday and, as a result, took a significant step toward playing in the 112th U.S. Open next month.
Van Sickle fired a 5-under-par 67 at soggy Quicksilver, taking medalist honors at the U.S. Open local qualifier that was twice delayed by rain.
Van Sickle and three others advanced to regional qualifiers, putting them one step away from playing their way into the major championship that will be staged at The Olympic Club in San Francisco from June 14-17.
More than a quarter of the field shot par or better yesterday, and Van Sickle's birdie binge on the back nine punctuated the best round at the hilly, undulating course.
Van Sickle, who plays on a mini tour in the Carolinas, reeled off four consecutive birdies after rolling in a 20-foot putt from the fringe on the 14th hole. He punched a 5-iron through a thicket of trouble and onto the green after hitting a wayward drive two holes later. That turned out to be Van Sickle's shot of the day after he made a 6-foot putt for birdie.
The Wexford resident had a chance for a fifth consecutive birdie on the 18th hole, but he didn't take any chances with the 6-foot putt, knowing a par would leave him safely in the top four.
Van Sickle, who missed qualifying for the 2007 U.S. Open at Oakmont by a stroke, will face stiffer competition next month in Columbus, Ohio. But he shouldn't be lacking for confidence when he tees it up in a sectional qualifier that will be packed with PGA Tour players.
“Just the fact that I'm playing well again, it's a relief,” said Van Sickle, who has overcome battles with his swing as well as a balky back. “My last two years it's been a struggle.”
Nothing seemed to bother Van Sickle on a gray, windswept day that seemed more suited for a British Open qualifier. His stellar play provided enough of a cushion for him to leave Quicksilver long before the last golfers had turned in their scorecards.
John Popeck took a decidedly different route to Columbus.
The Washington resident endured two rain delays, including one that caused officials to restart the field late yesterday morning and another that forced Popeck to wait 20 minutes before hitting his most important shot of the day.
It came on No. 17, a par-5 that Popeck figured he had to birdie to get to 70 and force a three-way playoff for the last automatic regional qualifying spot.
His drive had left him in a thick cut of rough, but after the late-afternoon delay, Popeck hit a flush 3-wood. He hit an equally clutch chip shot and made a 4-foot putt for birdie.
Popeck, who has been playing mini tours in Florida, sank a 12-foot birdie putt on the first playoff hole, No. 10, to claim the fourth and final qualifying spot.
“The plan was to hit the fairway, hit the green and give yourself a shot,” Popeck said.
Scott Brown is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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