Every year, Frank B. Fuhrer has a dinner after the first day of play for all past winners of the tournament that bears his name.
Monday, after the first two rounds of this year's tournament, the past champions broke off to go get ready for their banquet. Pine native Mike Van Sickle, not a member of that select group, remarked: "I'm just trying to get invited to that dinner."
Next year, there will be a seat waiting for him.
Van Sickle shot a 1-over 71 Wednesday to finish 1 under for the tournament and claim the 2013 Frank B. Fuhrer Invitational at Pittsburgh Field Club.
"You're just trying to survive out here," Van Sickle said. "If you get up one or two, you just make sure not to make any mistakes and don't let the course rear its ugly head and bite you."
Van Sickle, a Pine-Richland High School graduate, started the day two shots behind leader Ryan Sikora, his playing partner for the day.
On a course affected by three inches of rain the night before, Van Sickle played through a steady front nine that included just one bogey and one birdie. On the par-4 eighth, he made a 40-foot putt that moved him back to even on the day.
"[I was] definitely a little more aggressive going after pins," Van Sickle said. "With the greens as soft as they were, you didn't really have to worry about bouncing anything over."
He made another birdie putt of about 40 feet on the par-3 14th, a hole he double-bogeyed in the third round Tuesday.
Coming to the 17th hole, Van Sickle held a four-shot lead on the field. He three-putted for bogeys on the final two holes, but that didn't matter when he received the $35,000 winner's check after winning by two shots.
"You still feel it coming down the stretch," he said. "Bad thoughts will pop into your head a little bit.
"The only scary moment is when you're standing over your tee shot on 18 going, 'Oh god, don't shank this.' "
Sikora, meanwhile, never found his rhythm. He made three consecutive bogeys on the par-3 sixth, par-4 seventh and par-4 eighth and effectively ended his chances with a double bogey on the par-4 13th after his tee shot went out of bounds.
Sikora also had trouble getting key putts to drop. On several holes, his birdie chances came up just inches short on the greens, which were slowed by the rain Tuesday night.
Sikora finished fourth at 2 over for the tournament. David Bradshaw, last year's winner, and Nathan Sutherland finished tied for second at 1 over.
With Sikora struggling, Van Sickle knew he had an opportunity to make a move.
"I pretty much knew what was going on all day long," he said.
The victory Wednesday was his second significant win of the summer after Van Sickle won the West Penn Open title last week.
He said he hopes to use these two wins as a springboard for his career, which will continue today as he plays in a pre-qualifier for the PGA Tour's Greenbrier Classic.
"I had to go through some struggles the last couple of years, to come out the other end of the tunnel when there wasn't any light at the end for a while, to picture myself standing here, the emotions start creeping up," Van Sickle said.
"I'm just happy that I made it through that tunnel and am seeing some daylight here."
Sam Werner: email@example.com and Twitter @SWernerPG First Published June 26, 2013 3:15 PM