Maine’s Hickson tries for better PNC fate

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PUEBLO SANTA ANA, N.M. – It only seems that the PGA of America has something against John Hickson.

In 1995, the first time Hickson played in the PGA Professional National Championship, he tied for 38th place, but that was the year the PGA of America reduced the number of qualifiers into the PGA Championship from 40 to 25. Last year, Hickson was again left out in the cold after tying for 24th place, as the number of qualifiers was reduced from 25 to 20. There even was a tie for 13th in 1996 that didn’t get Hickson in; that year’s PNC was played in the fall, after the PGA Championship.

“That chuckle you hear is a cruel chuckle,” Hickson said with a wry grin.

On Monday, Hickson was solidly ensconced inside the top 20 at the 42nd PGA Professional National Championship until bogeys at his final two holes at Twin Warrior Golf Club dropped him some 20 spots on the leaderboard.

“I played pretty solid from tee to green,” said the 45-year-old Hickson, the manager of a Dick’s Sporting Goods in Topsham, Maine. “I had a lot of good birdie putts; I just didn’t make anything. Today I hit a few shots that were off line; yesterday I didn’t see anything that was crooked.”

Hickson has had his share of success in New England PGA section events. He’s won the Rhode Island (1999) and New England (1998) opens and the New England PGA (1995).

He also has qualified for one PGA Championship. He finished in a share of 17th place at the 1997 PNC to earn a spot in the field at Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, N.Y.

“What was great about that PGA was that my sister lives nearby, in White Plains, about 15 minutes away, so it was great to have that time and share the experience with my family.

“My first memory of that week was Justin Leonard saying, ‘Wow, aren’t those brownies good?’ as I scarfed down about six of them.

“But I also remember, I guess it was the second round, watching Davis Love III and Scott McCarron play a par 5. It was one of those par 5s where, if you carried it 270, you got another 50 or 60 yards, and if you didn’t carry it 270, you hit into a wall and you’re sitting back there, a mile and a half away.”

Obviously, living in Maine limits Hickson’s opportunity to keep his game in tip-top shape. “It’s a challenge,” Hickson admits. “How do I do it? Practice swings, lots of practice swings. But I have 40 hours a week there at work and I have a wife and family; I don’t know (how I do it).”

But should he be able to grab a spot in the PGA Championship at Hazeltine National. Who knows, by then his game might be in midseason form.

“To me, this is early,” Hickson said. “In Maine, the last two winters have been horrendous, and this year, summer is way behind; I think we’ve had two days of sunshine the last two weeks. So this is a taste of summer, but it’s still spring to me.”

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