The following players advanced to U.S. Open sectional qualifying from the local qualifier at The Club at Nevillewood:
70: Mike Van Sickle; 73: Tim Bowers, Corey Long; 74: Darin Kowalski; 75: Austin Nowak (won playoff against John Popeck, Ryan Sikora and Matt Gurska)
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The shifting wind and unpredictable greens left some of the best area golfers staggering about The Club at Nevillewood during the U.S. Open local qualifier Monday.
Yet, Mike Van Sickle handled the adverse conditions with accuracy off the tee and a disciplined putter. The Pine-Richland grad fired a 2-under-par 70 to advance to sectional qualifying with a three-stroke victory over amateurs Tim Bowers of McMurray and Corey Long of McDonald.
Van Sickle got off to a fast start with birdies on the par-4, 427-yard opening hole and the 195-yard par-3 fifth. He lofted a 6-iron beyond the pin on five, then calmly rolled in a 30-footer to get to 2-under.
“The greens were quick, so it took me a while to get the speed,” Van Sickle said. “It was one of those days if you had a downhill putt, you couldn't put speed on, and you had to factor in the wind into your read.
“I hit such a great putt (on 5), and by the time it got to the hole, it had some speed. I gave that a pretty nice fist pump because I wasn't sure if it was going to go in.”
Van Sickle closed the front nine with a bogey at the par-4, 415-yard ninth, but he bounced back with a birdie on the par-4 11th before stringing together five straight to pars to virtually cement his victory and a trip to Woodmont Country Club in Rockville, Md., where he will play June 6 with a chance to qualify for the U.S. Open at Oakmont Country Club.
Van Sickle, qualifying for sectionals for the fifth time, is one of five golfers to advance. In addition to Bowers and Long, Darin Kowalski of Bethel Park finished fourth with a 2-over 74 to earn a spot in the sectionals. Austin Nowak shot 75 and survived a four-man playoff to earn the fifth qualifying spot.
Van Sickle, the only golfer to finish under par on the 7,228-yard, par-72 layout, eased up on the throttle down the stretch. He protected his lead with a conservative approach off the tee, despite overpowering the 420-yard 11th hole. His 347-yard drive left him with a stress-free wedge onto a slick green that tormented most, and he sank the birdie putt.
He didn't attack the reachable par-5 15th, choosing 3-iron off the tee. He hit 3-wood on 18, where he got up and down for a closing par. His only mental miscue came on the par-3 17th, where he carded a bogey after finding the greenside bunker off the tee.
“The wind was all over the place,” Van Sickle said. “But by the time I got to my wedge shot on 15, it was straight downwind. I got cute (on 17) and tried to hit a fade up against the wind. I didn't commit to the swing and blocked it right.”
On 18, Van Sickle watched as Nowak put his shot in the water to register a double-bogey. He decided against pin-hunting, instead choosing to hit an 8-iron that drifted right into the rough, where he recovered with a chip shot that nestled a foot from the hole to salvage par.
“It was hard not to bail out after watching (Nowak) hit the ball in the water,” said Van Sickle, who hadn't played Nevillewood in nearly six years.
Bowers, 41, survived a round that nearly was derailed by double-bogeys on Nos. 1 and 18. He strung together birdies on 2, 3 and 4 to get back into contention.
“It was very tough out there,” said Bowers, who played at George Mason. “It was a little windier than expected, which made it even tougher. I strung together a bunch of pars, and kept grinding.”
Bowers put himself on the bubble on 18 when his hybrid approach from 225 yards ricocheted off the rocks and into the water. His bogey putt narrowly missed the hole, and he was forced to sit and wait.
“I knew it was going to be a struggle,” Bowers said. “I hadn't played in a U.S. Open qualifier in 15 years, so I feel good about the way I played.”
In the local qualifier at Pete Dye Golf Club in Bridgeport, W.Va., WVU junior Jon Ransone advanced to sectionals with an even-par 72.
Ralph N. Paulk is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at [email protected] or via Twitter @RalphPaulk_Trib.
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