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MU golfer Van Sickle states case for being top college player By Gary D’Amato of the Journal Sentinel

Posted: Nov. 21, 2008

With nine tournament victories, including three this fall, there's no question Mike Van Sickle is the best golfer in Marquette University history.

The bigger question: Is he the best college golfer in America?

“To win three out of five events is pretty special to do,” Golden Eagles coach Tim Grogan said. “I can't think of anybody else who had a better fall. He's been as good as anybody this fall.”

The statistics back up Grogan's claim. Van Sickle, a senior from Wexford, Pa., has the third-best scoring average in the nation (69.33) and is ranked fourth in the Golfstat Cup standings. He's also the sixth-ranked amateur in the United States, according to the Scratch Players World Amateur Ranking.

He won the Gopher Invitational, the Xavier Invitational - with a school-record 17-under-par 199 total for 54 holes - and the Pacific Invitational.

Van Sickle will finish his fall season at the Western Refining College All-America Golf Classic, Saturday through Tuesday at El Paso (Texas) Country Club. Only the nation's top players are invited to play in the event, which has featured Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Jim Furyk and Davis Love III.

“I know when I play well, it's difficult for other guys to beat me,” Van Sickle said. “There's a lot of other talented players out there but I personally group myself in that top category.

“But as soon as you get complacent with where you are, that's when you won't be in that top category. So the key is to keep working.”

Van Sickle arrived at Marquette with uncommon talent - his club head speed is 125 mph and his ball speed (the speed of the ball coming off the club face) is 180 mph, which are PGA Tour-caliber numbers - but it's his work ethic that has set him apart.

“What makes Mike so coachable is that he's the hardest worker on the team,” Grogan said. “That's what I try to tell the other guys. There's no surprise that he has the best results. He works harder than anybody else.”

Van Sickle was a below-average putter his freshman year but spent dozens and dozens of hours working on his stroke on Marquette's newly installed indoor practice green his sophomore year and won the first three tournaments of the spring season that year.

“He needed to eliminate his three-putting and he did that,” Grogan said. “He averages less than one three-putt per tournament now, which is up there in the top 30. His freshman year, he would have been in the bottom 100.”

Next, Van Sickle had to hone his chipping game and wedge play. His father, Gary Van Sickle, covers professional golf for Sports Illustrated and continually reminds Mike that he needs to work on his short game.

“He tells me, 'You're good right now but you're not there yet. Keep working at it. You're getting closer,' ” Mike Van Sickle said. “I really focused on getting the fundamentals down. I went from the point where I honestly was a bad wedge player to now I'm adequate.”

It all came together at the Xavier Invitational, where Van Sickle made 19 birdies and just two bogeys. He did not have a single three-putt.

“He's open-minded to objective criticism,” Grogan said. “That's why I think he'll just keep getting better. His putting got better, his chipping got better and his wedge game will get better.”

Already, Van Sickle has shot some very low numbers. He fired a 61 to tie the Ozaukee Country Club course record during a practice round a couple of years ago. He shot 64-68-67 to win at Xavier. And this past summer he shot a 60 en route to victory in the Tri-State Open, a tournament in Pennsylvania.

“I made 12 birdies and had a 4-footer (on the final hole) for 59,” he said. “It didn't even touch the hole. I threw up everywhere. They had to get someone to clean up the green.”

Van Sickle, who holds every significant school record, said his goals for his final semester in spring revolved around the team. The Golden Eagles won the Big East Conference championship and made their first NCAA tournament appearance last year and Van Sickle is hoping for a repeat of both.

He expects to graduate on time with a degree in broadcast journalism and then will have to decide how long to wait before turning professional. His ultimate goal is to make it to the PGA Tour.

“I'll be very surprised if he doesn't make it,” Grogan said. “So much can happen to these guys, but he's got so much upside. . . . How he compresses the golf ball, his ball flight, you don't see that too often with a person his age. He's got that part of it and the other things he knows he can improve on.

“Mike is so competitive. He's going to go work on it as hard as he can until he gets it. I think that's got to be a huge thing to have to keep going and make it to the (PGA Tour). He really wants it.”


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