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First-round co-leader playing name game

By Eddie Pells
Associated Press
SAN DIEGO ó Justin Hicks went to the golf course, took a walk around, had a beer and a sandwich. Five hours later, he spotted his name atop the U.S. Open leaderboard.
Indeed, it was quite a day to be Justin Hicks at Torrey Pines ó even if you werenít the Justin Hicks at Torrey Pines.
Turns out, there were two of them out there Thursday.
One was the Nationwide Tour professional, the one who shot 3-under 68 to share the lead with Kevin Streelman after the opening round. The other was the club professional at Stadium Golf Center in San Diego, who simply drove up the road to watch the action.
iI got home, I had three or four e-mails saying ëCongrats on the Open,í î said Hicks, the teaching pro. iI had students saying, ëWow, youíre playing fantastic.í î
A nice sentiment.
But, in fact, it was the other Justin Hicks who was making a name for himself.
Heís the 33-year-old from Royal Palm Beach, Fla., who has been playing the Nationwide on and off for the past four years. He made it here through qualifying earlier this month.
iWho am I?î Hicks said after his round. iWell, I think Iím just another one of the guys out there playing the Nationwide Tour, trying to earn his PGA Tour card. Thereís a lot of great young players in America, and weíre all out there trying to earn our way up.î
The other Justin Hicks, a 38-year-old who was born and raised in San Diego, was one of those up-and-comers once, too.
He went to UC-Santa Barbara in the early í90s, then transferred to UCLA, where he played golf as a walk-on. In 1995, he went to Q-school and made it to the second round. After that, he played on the Hooters Tour for five or six months.
iThatís when I realized my game wasnít good enough and that wasnít quite what I was looking for,î he said.
Around then, Stadium Golf opened, and he has enjoyed a successful career there ever since.
Not that he hasnít dabbled in the playing side a little.
He was named the San Diego chapterís PGA Player of the Year in 2007, got a sponsorís invitation to the Buick Invitational at Torrey Pines earlier this year and played a practice round with Tiger Woods.
iA once-in-a-lifetime experience,î he called it.
But all this mixing of Hickses has caused some confusion.
For instance, around the time Hicks was practicing with Tiger, the other Hicks got a call from the Nationwide Tour after officials saw his name on the entry list for the Buick. They said they were scratching him from their season-opening event in Panama City.
iI told them, ëWell, Iíd like to go to Panama, because thatís not me,í î Hicks said.
That led to Hicks the teaching pro suddenly becoming Justin B. Hicks, as far as the PGA Tour recordbooks were concerned.
There have been other moments.
Both players have sponsorship deals with Titleist, and occasionally their checks get crossed in the mail. (No comment on whoís getting the better deal in that.)
Theyíre becoming friends. They started getting to know each other in 2001, when Justin Hicks sent Justin B. Hicks an e-mail, introducing himself and talking about their strange connection. Three years later, they happened to be on the same airplane in 2004 in Houston; Justin B. Hicks was going to a teaching summit, Justin Hicks on his way home from Q-School.
On Monday, during practice rounds, Justin B. Hicks came to the course and made a point of going to meet his namesake. Justin Hicks invited him inside the ropes on the second hole, and as soon as Justin B. Hicks came inside, the other Justin immediately holed out for an eagle. With karma like that, Justin B. Hicks figured it would be worth it to peek in when he returned to watch the first round Thursday.
iI was talking to his mom, his wife, his sister-in-law,î Hicks said.
He also met Justin Hicksí friend, John Turcotte, who should not, in any way, be confused with Jon Turcott, the Nationwide pro who is also in the U.S. Open and shot 6-over 77.
iI said, ëWe oughta get a foursome together. It could be a pretty interesting time,î Justin B. Hicks said.
(Justin B. Hicks also has a good friend who was at the course Thursday named Dean Wilson, not the Dean Wilson who shot 5-over-par 76, but letís not even go there.)
When all the craziness is over, itís hard to know who will get the most out of this jumble of Justins.
Any golf fan who typed the words iJustin Hicksî into Google on Thursday saw a link for www.hicksgolf.com. Thatís Justin B. Hicksí teaching Web site. Hard to buy publicity like that.
As for Justin Hicks the playing pro ó well, anything seems possible after a day that very few could have expected.
iHopefully people arenít too surprised, at least my good friends,î he said. iI thought it was a pretty good round.î
Surely, the other Justin Hicks would second that.

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