BY BRAD ZIEMER
KELOWNA – John Mlikotic will cut into his birthday cake at some point on Saturday. But he missed out on the cut he really wanted to make.
The assistant pro from Gallagher’s Canyon Golf & Country Club gamely battled back after a tough start to his second round Friday and put himself in position to possibly play on the weekend at the GolfBC Championship.
He has had to wait until Saturday morning to find out whether he survived the 36-hole cut at the $175,000 Mackenzie Tour-PGA Tour Canada event. Unfortunately, the news was not good.
A two-and-a-half hour weather delay meant that many golfers did not complete their second rounds Friday.
Mlikotic did finish his round as he two-putted for birdie on his final hole — the par 5 ninth — to shoot a 72 and get to two-under for the tournament. That moved him inside the cut line. But that cut line — the top 60 and ties — moved to three-under after play was completed Saturday morning.
Mlikotic, who turned 23 on Saturday, was proud of the way he finished his round.
“Today was a really big grind,” he said of Friday’s second round. “I didn’t have my ‘A game’ by any means, but I thought mentally I held myself together really well. I was able to roll in a nice putt on five (his 14th hole) for birdie and then just take care of the par 5s from there. I birdied six and nine to give myself a chance to make the cut.”
That was quite an accomplishment considering the way his round started. Mlikotic, who shot a three-under 68 in Thursday’s opening round, bogeyed two of his first three holes on Friday.
“To be honest, I felt more comfortable than I did yesterday and the score doesn’t indicate that whatsoever because I got off to a really good start yesterday,” he said. “I felt comfortable, but I hit a pretty bad putt on my first hole and ended up three-putting for bogey. And then on 12 I just made an awful swing off the tee and ended up losing a ball left. To make bogey there, it didn’t seem like a positive, but I took a positive out of it because it could have been a lot worse. It could have been double, it could have been triple. I tried to build off that.”
After birdieing his fifth hole, Mlikotic was hurt by another bad swing on his sixth hole and ended up taking a double-bogey.
“Once again, a bad swing off the tee,” he said. “I hit a 3-iron off 15 and just made a horrendous swing. Didn’t even go to look for the ball it was so far out of bounds. It was unfortunate. Other than those two swings, I thought I played decently solid.”
Mlikotic, a Kelowna native who played collegiate golf for Simon Fraser University, was playing on a sponsor’s exemption. He said he has been blown away by all the support he has received. Family and friends walked the course with him and Gallagher’s staff and members have cheered him on.
“The support has been tremendous, way more than I could have imagined,” he said. “People coming out watching, my family and friends have been there every shot of the way and even just walking through the clubhouse or on Facebook or texting or Instagram, the support has been unbelievable. The members have been right there by my side as well and the staff here at Gallagher’s are all rooting for me, so it is really cool and fun. I knew there would be support, I just didn’t think it would be to this degree. So it has been amazing.”
Mlikotic said his experience this week has only served to strengthen his desire to chase his dream of playing the game for a living.
“This is definitely my career path, my dreams and my goals, to be a playing professional and I think this week the whole experience has solidified that.”
Mlikotic played the first two rounds in the same group as Jacqueline Bendrick, who also received a sponsor’s exemption and was the first woman to play in a Mackenzie Tour event since PGA Tour Canada took over the former Canadian Tour in 2013.
After opening with an 80, Bendrick shot a five-over 76 on Friday. Mlikotic said he was impressed with Bendrick’s length and poise.
“Jacqueline hits it off the tee really well,” he said. “Every drive is down the middle and it’s out there. She hits it long, so she’ll definitely have a long career in golf if she’d like to pursue it. I definitely see a lot of talent in her. . .she was great to play with and it was fun to watch.”
Bendrick, a Mercer Island, Wash. resident who just completed her second year of collegiate golf at Furman University in South Carolina, turned 20 on Friday.
“It was a fantastic experience,” she said after her round. “I was definitely pretty nervous going into the first day and that kind of showed. But I could not have asked for a better opportunity.
“I didn’t make a double (bogey) the entire tournament and as my coach says bogeys won’t hurt you and yesterday there were just a lot of them. But it could have been a lot worse. I was striking the ball really well, just kind of hit over some greens and had some yardage problems.”
When second-round play was completed Saturday morning, Caleb Sturgeon of South Carolina led by three shots. He completed a six-under 65 on Saturday morning to move to 13-under par. Vancouver’s Ryan Williams is one of three players tied for second at 10-under. Williams fired his second straight five-under 66 on Friday.