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U.S. Open qualifier a return to competitive golf for Sissonville native

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Sissonville native Matt Hicks misses the mountains of West Virginia, whether he was tucked between them at his Kanawha County hometown or West Liberty State College.

Hicks returns to the Mountain State for the first time since January 2012 when he competes in the U.S. Open local qualifier at the Edgewood Country Club.

Hicks is one of 47 players who will gather at the plush 6,900-yard, par-71 layout off Derrick's Creek Road.

"I haven't played Edgewood in more than a year and a half," said Hicks, who won the 2010 qualifier at Edgewood. "I haven't been in West Virginia since January 2012 and I was just visiting my family, and I didn't play, but I pretty much know every break of the greens."

There are 111 local qualifiers across the United States with players seeking spots in sectional qualifiers. The top three players from Edgewood Country Club will play in a sectional qualifier on June 3 at one of 11 locations. There also will be two alternates.

Wednesday's competition will be a return to competitive golf for Hicks, a 2002 graduate of Sissonville High School and 2005 West Virginia Conference Player of the Year at West Liberty.

Hicks is the outside operations supervisor at PGA National Resort and Spa in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

Among his responsibilities is handling the bagger staff, the marshals and rangers on four courses at the resort.

His big plan to seek his PGA Tour card, however, haven't been put on hold.

The third-place finisher at the 2005 State Amateur said he had to "pay the bills," although he has a "pretty good gig."

"I just kind of ran into that job," Hicks said. "I have pretty good perks. I get lessons from the David Ledbetter guys and the Dave Pell short-game school. I get to practice on all of the courses there."

That includes the PGA National Champion Course where the PGA Tour's Honda Classic is contested.

He doesn't do much playing between November and May, but his schedule becomes more open in the summer months.

Between lessons and playing in money games, Hicks said his game is "definitely there," but he's not sure where he stands in tournament competition.

He'll soon find out at his old stomping grounds in an Open local qualifier, where bogeys can be devastating.

"I have a good course strategy for Edgewood," he said. "I'm not worried about shooting 3 or 4 under. You have three of the last holes as par 5s. I'm just planning on staying focused."

No matter how he plays, Hicks said his intention is to get more serious about tournament golf. His next return to his home state will likely be July 1 for the Greenbrier Classic Monday qualifier.

"This year, my game is sharper," Hicks said. "I've always said that after playing in the (State) Open and stuff I would get into some of these Monday qualifiers, but I never got the chance to do that.

"I worked on my swing with the Ledbetter instructors, I'm actually a lot closer to playing on that high level. As far as tournament experience, I'm lacking that a little bit."

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THE LOCAL qualifier field includes Lanto Griffin, a resident of Salem, Va., who received an exemption into the 2011 Greenbrier Classic.

After shooting a 1-over 71 in the first round, Griffin missed the cut with a 5-over 75.

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ALSO COMPETING will be Sleepy Hollow Golf Club general manager Jonathan Clark, who won the 2012 West Virginia Open at Edgewood Country Club.

Additionally, two-time Class AAA state high school medalist Thadd Obecny will be competing, as well as Marshall University's Brian Anania, a former Hurricane star, and former Capital High School and Marshall University standout Christian Brand.

Contact Assistant Sports Editor Rich Stevens at richstevens@dailymail.com or 304-348-4837.


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