It’s already been John Mlikotic’s best season with the Simon Fraser Clan men’s golf program.
But there’s still more the 21-year-old Immaculata grad would like to accomplish before his fourth and final campaign of university competition comes to a close.
Mlikotic and the Clan are off to the NCAA Div. 2 West/South Central regional tournament beginning Monday in Vallejo, Calif.
The top five teams will advance to the national championship May 18 to 22 in North Carolina.
Mlikotic and the Clan are enjoying the program’s best year to date, as SFU is currently ranked 14th in the nation in Div. 2 men’s golf.
“It’s been a good season for us, but there’s more we want before it’s over,” said Mlikotic. “The first goal is to play well at regionals and get back to nationals.
“Right now we feel like we’re clicking as a team, and if we get the the bounces and our time is right who knows, maybe we can win the whole thing. We might as well set our goals high.”
Mlikotic and the Clan were in fine form last week en route to winning the school’s first ever Great Northwest Athletic Conference in Idaho.
Mlikotic posted scores of 69-70-73 to finish third in individual play.
In addition to a pair of second-place and one third-place effort this season, the Kelowna golfer has also has nine top-10 finishes.
He was also named this week a GNAC first-team all-star.
All in all, the former B.C. high school A boys’ champion is pleased with the way the 2014-15 season has unfolded.
“My game’s always a work in progress but I’m pretty happy with it,” Mlikotic said. “I’ve been working hard this year, continuing on from last summer, so I think the work is starting to pay off. I feel ready to compete over the last few weeks here and hopefully help the team to a good finish.”
Under the tutelage of Clan head coach John Buchanan, Mlikotic has shown improvement in each of his four seasons and has evolved into a leadership role as SFU team captain.
An under-the-radar player coming out of high school, Buchanan didn’t have huge expectations for Mlikotic. Still, after watching him play at the B.C. amateur championship four years ago, the SFU coach said there were reasons to be intrigued.
“You could see he had potential, there was very good intensity and focus in him,” Buchanan said. “He was exceptionally well-mannered, and I enjoyed talking to him.
“He’s turned into a very consistent player during his time here, he’s very well-respected and he’s been a big part of helping build our program into what it is today.”
The 2013-14 season was a breakout campaign for both Mlikotic and the Clan, as SFU surprised everyone by earning a spot at both regionals and nationals.
Buchanan said Mlikotic’s defining moment and turning point in his game came at the 2014 regionals in Austin, Texas.
In the final round, with the Clan 16 strokes out of a national qualifying spot, Mlikotic went to work, stringing together a stellar back nine—including birdies on three of the last five holes—to shoot his lowest career round of 68.
The result also vaulted SFU from ninth to sixth place and a berth at the national championships.
“That was the biggest contribution I had made as a player,” Mlikotic said. “It kind of propelled us to nationals. Something like that gives you confidence and belief in yourself.
“I think all the experiences of past years at school and on the golf course have really benefitted me,” he added. “I feel more comfortable when I’m close to the lead and feel like I just handle myself better than when I was younger.”
When the NCAA golf season and his Clan career comes to an end, Mlikotic will return to Kelowna for the summer where he plans to play in a number of tournaments.
Next fall, he’ll return to SFU for his fifth and final year of school, where he majors in communications with a minor in business.
Then in the summer of 2016, Mlikotic may try his hand at turning pro.
“It’s been a dream and a goal of mine for a while now,” he said. “I figure I might as well give it a run.”