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Thursday, June 12, 2008

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Hicks Part Of Open Lore

by David Shefter   USGA

Part of what makes the U.S. Open special are the players who come virtually from nowhere to become household names, even if it's just for 24 hours. We all remember Andy Dillard at the 1992 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach opening with a championship-record six consecutive birdies. Or how Mike Donald was so close to etching his name on the trophy in 1990 at Medinah C.C., only to be edged in a 19-hole playoff by Hale Irwin.

And just three years ago, Jason Gore worked himself into the final pairing at Pinehurst before posting a final-round 84. But unlike Dillard and Donald, Gore never faded away. He won an unprecedented three consecutive Nationwide Tour events and then the 84 Lumber Classic in a three-month span.

Perhaps Justin Hicks will have similar success. Hicks shot a first-round 68 on Thursday to take the early lead at the 2008 U.S. Open. He's a 33-year-old journeyman who competed on countless mini-tours before making his way to the Nationwide Tour in 2007. A second chance out of local qualifying -- he was a first alternate who got called when Ryuji Imada became fully exempt for the championship -- got him into the Columbus, Ohio, sectional, where he qualified in a playoff.

Nobody knows if Hicks will stay atop the leader board over the next three days, but he's certainly making the most of his opportunity. He drives the ball straight -- he found 12 of 14 fairways in round one -- and he holed a number of putts in his seven-birdie, four-bogey round. And even if he doesn't win, a good week can boost a player's confidence enough to carry over to the rest of the Nationwide Tour schedule.

It definitely worked wonders for Gore.


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