John Mlikotic

John Mlikotic watches a practice shot Tuesday at Gallagher’s Canyon Golf and Country Club. Mlikotic is one of four locals teeing up at this weekend’s GolfBC Championship.

John Mlikotic may be an unofficial host at this weekend’s GolfBC Championship, but he has some unfinished business to take care of, too.

The 26-year-old Kelowna native has received a sponsor’s exemption into the Mackenzie Tour’s stop at Gallagher’s Canyon Golf and Country Club beginning Thursday.

Mlikotic is hoping a strong finish here will kickstart his season. Gallagher’s Canyon is his home course, and he’s confident he can lead the local charge.

“I’ve hit every single shot on the golf course throughout the years,” Mlikotic said on Tuesday. “I’m comfortable here. I know where I can miss it, and I know where I can be aggressive. I definitely think it works to my advantage.”

Golfing begins on Thursday with 156 players vying for $200,000 in prize money. The field is cut after two days.

George Cunningham won last year with a 20-under par score that earned him the $36,000 winner’s payday.

The Mackenzie Tour is the PGA Tour’s Canadian arm. Top players here can graduate to the Web.com Tour, the penultimate step before reaching the big leagues of professional golf, the PGA Tour.

Mlikotic played the GolfBC Championship two years ago, and he missed the cut by one stroke.

He said his game as matured to the point where he’s ready to challenge the leaders. He earned conditional status on the Mackenzie Tour earlier this season, and said the physical aspects of his game are where they need to be.

Now, it’s having the confidence in himself and his abilities.

“I know I can compete out here,” said Mlikotic, who turned pro after a collegiate career at Simon Fraser University. “I know that when I have my good stuff, I can play. Physically, I know I can hit it far enough. I know I can putt well enough.

“It’s just staying focused, and doing it at the right time.”

Top-20 finishers in Kelowna get to skip Monday qualifying for next week’s stop in Lethbridge, Alta.

The Mackenzie Tour is 12 events from May to September. After the first six events of the season, the rankings are reshuffled and players scoring well can earn fulltime tour status, meaning they don’t have to endure Monday qualifying at all.

Mlikotic said there’s a razor-thin margin separating touring pros with qualifiers who need to score well the Monday before a tournament, or they can’t play.

What might make a difference is familiarity with the course.

“You can definitely tell the rough is a little thicker, the greens are a little firmer. The course is in great condition,” Mlikotic said.

Golf wasn’t always Mlikotic’s first love. He was a hockey player but “a bunch of concussions stopped that.”

He began golfing when he was 14 years old and hasn’t looked back.

“I’ve loved it ever since,” said the Immaculata high school graduate.

“I just realized that I loved the lifestyle. I loved the travel; the challenge of traveling and playing golf.”

He’s enjoyed breakthroughs as a pro playing the Vancouver Golf Tour, earning wins there and rookie of the year honours. Mlikotic has also traveled to Phoenix the past three seasons to play the Outlaw Golf Tour.

He’s able to do this all thanks to a private sponsor.

“It’s been a huge help,” Mlikotic said. “I can’t explain it enough.

“It lets me play full-time and not have to worry about working at the same time so I can just focus on my game.”

CHIP SHOTS — Admission this weekend is by donation. … Alongside Mlikotic, the other five sponsor exemptions are James Allenby (Langley, B.C.), Mike Nedoszytko (Toronto), Ethan Danish (West Kelowna), amateur Cooper Humphreys (Kelowna) and Gallagher’s assistant pro Lionel Taylor. … Eight Americans earned a place in the tournament through Monday qualifying. They are: Colton West (Mesa, Ariz.), Zachary Jaworski (Saint Petersburg, Fla.), Lukas Euler (Dieburg, Ken.), Matthew Oshrine (Baltimore), Daniel Hudson (Western Springs, Ill.), Ryan Brooks (East Wenatchee, Wash.), Alex Springer (Stilwell, Kan.) and Drew McCullough (Richland, Wash.). … A long-drive contest is today, 3:30 p.m., at the No. 1 patio tee box. … A hole-in-one contest is Saturday after tournament play concludes at No. 3. There may be limited spots for amateur golfers in both contests. See golfbcchampionship.com for full details.

This article appeared on page B3 of The Daily Courier's July 12 print edition.

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