- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 29, 2001

There are two kinds of golfers on the PGA Tour: those who haven't won, and those who have. Frank Lickliter left the first world and entered the second yesterday at the Kemper Open. Runner-up J.J. Henry, meanwhile, is still waiting for the door to open. His time will eventually come unless, of course, it doesn't.
"Yeah, there's a difference [between players who've won and players who haven't]," Lickliter said after rolling in a nine-foot tournament-saver on 18. "There's a bigger difference between guys who've won once and guys who've won a bunch of times."
Since it moved to Avenel, the Kemper has seemed to specialize in guys who've won once. The 2000 champ, Tom Scherrer, is a one-time winner. The '99 champ, Rich Beem, is a one-time winner. Grant Waite ('93), Tom Byrum ('89) both one-time winners. Lickliter, a top-50ish player the past four years, doesn't plan to add his name to the list. He's 31, playing the best golf of his career and is starting to generate victory opportunities.
His playoff with Phil Mickelson in the Buick Invitational back in February didn't go so well he triple-bogeyed the third hole but in yesterday's rain-delayed finish, he stared into the abyss and held off Henry, who was safely in the clubhouse at 15 under. How often do you see a golfer blow two shots of a three-shot lead, bogeying 16 and 17, and then make a knee-knocker at the last with most of the gallery thinking: This man is in serious need of a tracheotomy?
Practically never.
Golf is cruel like that. When your nerves begin to betray you, there's no place to hide. Lickliter started wobbling when he missed the 16th fairway (and compounded that misdemeanor by hitting his approach in the front right bunker). At 17 he three-putted from 40 feet. Then he pulled a 7-iron to the left of the 18th green, forcing himself to scramble to make par.
Maybe it helped that there wasn't the usual huge gallery encircling 18. The atmosphere yesterday, on Day 5 of the Kemper, was more like a U.S. Open qualifier friends and family and not much else. Could that have de-pressurized the situation slightly, made the winning putt somehow seem smaller to Lickliter in the grand scheme of things? Perhaps. At any rate, he got it to go in.
"Wasn't pretty," the Wright State grad said. "Didn't feel pretty. The putt felt extremely good, though, on the last hole. It's been a while. It took me longer than I thought it would take me to win."
Six years to be exact plus another on the Buy.com Tour and two others retooling his swing and playing here and there. His only previous victory as a pro had come at the '95 Boise Open (over a couple of fellows named Craig Kanada and Kevin Burton). He had never even managed a second on the PGA Tour until a few months ago.
Fortunately for Lickliter, he gave himself some margin for error yesterday by birdieing 12, the toughest hole on the course, and 14 after play resumed. He almost birdied 11, too, but misread a 6-foot putt. Indeed, he played wonderfully all week long, shooting four rounds in the 60s. That's usually what it takes to win at Avenel. (As six of the last eight champions have shown.)
"I like this golf course because you have to place your golf ball," he said. "The pins get pretty severe. Like on No. 10, you need to drive it down the right edge of that fairway in order to have a shot at that pin. You drive it in the middle there, you've got tree trouble. The pin on Sunday is right behind that tree. So I like that. I like where you actually have to place your driver off the tee. There are certain spots that are key to play from or the best place to play from. I think that suits my game."
For 26-year-old J.J. Henry of TCU and Fairfield, Conn., the difference between being A Guy Who Has Won and A Guy Who Hasn't might have been that final rainstorm Sunday night that kept the last round from being completed. "I was really on a roll [Sunday] afternoon," he said, "and I was kinda hoping we could finish it off."
Then again, the difference could have been the bogey he took on 16 yesterday, when his tee shot drifted way right and he left himself a 75-foot putt that went up and then down, left and then right. Awful tough to get down in two from there. He didn't and it cost him a spot in a playoff.
"I shot 66 in the last round with stop-and-go, stop-and-go," he said. "So I'm going to try to feed off the positives in that… . Deep down, this shows me I can compete at this level, I can compete against the best players in the world. More than anything, I come away from this with a sense of belonging."
One of these days he might come away from a tournament with a trophy. Yesterday Frank Lickliter got his.


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