Former U.S. Amateur Champ Faces Harsh Reality at Q-School

November 12, 2015

BROOKSVILLE, Fla. — Shooting 65 in the first round of Tour second stage qualifying isn’t necessarily the best thing that can happen to you. At least, not if you’re Bubba Dickerson, former U.S. Amateur champion and part-time Tour player.

“I showed up with no expectations because I hadn’t played much lately,” Dickerson said after Thursday’s third round. “I shoot 65 and all of a sudden I have expectations. I always play better without them.”

Dickerson, paired with Cameron Wilson and Mike Van Sickle (my son, FYI), was grinding out a decent score the way good players do even on days when they don’t have their best stuff.

He birdied the par-5 16th to get back to even par. Unfortunately, that earned him honors on the par-3 17th hole, which was back into a breeze that had suddenly stiffened after being pretty quiet most of the morning. Dickerson hit his iron shot and immediately begged it to “Go! Go!” The wind knocked it down into the face of the front bunker and his ball caromed back and up against a steep bank.

“I think I caught a gust,” he said later.

That forced Dickerson to play some kind of trick shot out of the sand. He tried several stances, none of which were going to work, and finally settled on stretching out his right leg so far, he was almost on one knee, and was in a serious squat. He got the club under the ball too well, it didn’t carry out of the bunker, and his ball rolled back into the sand.

From there, he pitched out to two inches — a pro shot — to salvage bogey.

He missed the 18th green in a nefarious Pete Dye swale to the right and, after pitching on, missed a mid-range par putt for an aggravating bogey. He’d fought hard all day, racking up five birdies with seven bogeys, and came away with a two-over 74.

It was his second 74 in a row after that opening 65, leaving him three of the cut line.

Dickerson, 34, played in only a handful of events this year. He hurt his wrist warming up off mats in Monday qualifying for the PGA Tour’s L.A. stop, the Northern Trust Open, in February. That nagging injury forced him to take a break by early April.

He got into the Nova Scotia tournament on the and finished top 10, which got him into a few tournaments but by then the season was almost over.

Lately, he’s been busy at home. He’s got a six-week-old baby girl, plus a nine-year-old son and a 12-year-old daughter. “It’s been fun,” Dickerson said. “My oldest is playing softball and my boy is playing football. It was good for me to be home.”

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Dickerson lives in Fernandina Beach, Fla. He played two years on the PGA Tour in 2006 and ’07, winning just over $730,000. His last full season was 2012, when he teed it up 24 times. He has played in just 12 tournaments the last three years. He’s got a part-interest in a vacation-home business and said he will consider his options after Q-school is finished.

“If I don’t get back out on full-time, I’m not sure I want to keep doing this,” Dickerson said. “I’ve got three kids, I’ve got to make some money.”

The 74 dropped him back to 32nd place. A field of 76 players is competing for four rounds with the top 21 finishers and ties advancing to next month’s final stage of qualifying. After the third round, there were 22 players at 6 under or better.

“Yeah, you’d rather shoot 7 under, 5 under and 5 under and just go out for a nice walk the last day,” Dickerson said. “I’d like to try that sometime. I’ve just got to play a little better, like that guy who shot 65 the first day.”

Wilson also shot 74 and is tied with Dickerson, while my son Mike shot 70 and moved up to 14th place despite a disconcerting start.

When Mike was warming up on the range before the round, the face on his prized Cleveland Classic 290 driver cracked. He sent his caddie, Scotsman Paul Ferrier, back to the car for a backup model. Those drivers haven’t been in production for a few years and after putting the backup in play, now he’s down to just one extra head.

Mike, 28, and a Pittsburgh resident, is a big hitter and said his drivers typically last less than a year before the face caves in.

“Who makes Thor’s hammer, I don’t remember that ever cracking,” Mike joked. “I check my driver pretty closely during the year because of that and I try not to hit too many range balls with it. Because of that, I had a backup driver ready to come in from the bullpen, or the back of my car. The one that broke today made it well past the ‘best by’ date so I’ve been checking it pretty carefully.”

He’ll be trolling online to see if there are any more 9° Classic 290 drivers on the market. Other than that, he had a quiet day. The pins at Southern Hills Plantation were in the toughest spots in three days and a stiffening breeze made the closing holes a little more challenging.

Mike had three birdies, one bogey. His only glitch was a three-putt from 30 feet at the par-3 eighth hole, which he got back at the ninth when he drove it to the fringe on the uphill par 4 and nearly chipped in.

At 7 under, he is one ahead of the cut-line. “Are we there yet?” Mike joked after our fourth straight mid-afternoon lunch at a nearby Applebee’s.

Almost. One more round Friday.