Unknowns make names for themselves at the Open

Unknowns make names for themselves at the Open

Hicks finished Thursday at four under par.
Al Tielemans/SI

SAN DIEGO — You may know Justin Hicks from his tie for second-place at the 2007 National Mining Association Pete Dye Classic, a Nationwide Tour stop, or from his two victories on the Montgomery Sports Tour. Or you may know him from — oh, never mind.

American Idol winner Taylor Hicks and NBC announcer Dan Hicks are more famous. Even Mike Hicks, caddie for the late Payne Stewart, has a bigger Q rating. But it was Nationwide Tour pro Justin Hicks, 33, who shot a three-under-par 68 to join another unknown, Kevin Streelman, at the top of the leader board after the first round of the 108th U.S. Open.

"I'm not really concerned with the whole 15 minutes of fame," said Hicks, a Floridian whose agent is also his caddie this week. "I'm concerned with trying to make it longer than that."

Hicks said he did not look at leaderboards Thursday, which is a shame because he would have been the only one doing so without furrowing his brow and asking, "Who is J. Hicks?"

Answer: He is a one-man witness protection program.

That's because there is a Justin B. Hicks, a top San Diego club pro who played in the Buick Invitational at Torrey Pines in January. When Justin B. met Justin earlier this week it was the perfect storm of golfing Hicks, which sounds like the day John Daly met Boo Weekley but was in fact a long-awaited meeting of two guys who regularly get each other's mail.

"It's caused a lot of interesting things for both of us this year," said the Open-leading Hicks. "The Tour got us mixed up. Companies got us mixed up. Checks [for Justin B.] were going to my place; [my] checks were going to his place. There was all kinds of fun stuff going on there. [The PGA Tour] actually withdrew me out of the Nationwide event; I called them up and they said, 'You committed to the Buick and we figured you wouldn't want to go to Panama.' I said, 'No, I'd like to go to Panama, because that's not me.'

"I told my caddie today, 'Wow, that's weird, the other Justin Hicks is here with my wife,'" he continued. (Okay now that's going too far.)

The first day of the U.S. and British Opens is always heavy on the "Open" part, as in wide open to any anonymous qualifier who happens to have a hot day. Thursday at Torrey Pines was no different, yielding a cavalcade of confusing names that sent scribes scrambling for the player bios. The stack of them in the media tent was gone by 11 a.m.

In addition to Hicks, who did not make a single par in his first nine holes but carded a three-under 33 on Torrey's back side, the early leaderboard gave us such illustrious names as Eric Axley, a lefthander from Tennessee who has won once on the PGA Tour, at the 2006 Valero Texas Open.

Axley shot a two-under 69, as did Rocco Mediate, 45, who you might be surprised to learn has not retired despite his chronic back trouble and frequent on-air work for the Golf Channel. Stuart Appleby also shot 69.

Robert "the Swedish Skyscraper" Karlsson, whose previous distinction was his height of 6'5", carded a one-under 70, as did Rickie Fowler, who with Kevin Tway is one of two Oklahoma State golfers in the field. (At 19 years, 5 months old, Fowler is the younger of the two, and the youngest here.)

Streelman, who played with Tiger Woods in the final group in the third round of the Buick Invitational in January (eventually finishing T29), came out firing yet again at what seems to be his favorite course.

Rickie, Rocco, Axley, Karlsson — first names or last names, it's safe to say these were not the names on your U.S. Open fantasy ballot.

Hicks said his friends tell him he drives straighter than he putts, making him a fine candidate to thrive at an Open, but when he finally got to one, in 2004, he shot 75-71 to miss the cut. Thus he remained anonymous, until Thursday.

As the man said, there are some weird things going on. But it's early yet. Me, I'm rooting for Michael Quagliano.

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