July 30, 2014
Former University of Michigan men's golfer Justin Hicks (1994-97) has been playing professionally since graduating from U-M with a degree in political science in 1997. In 2011, he reached his dream of playing on the PGA TOUR, where he has been competing for the last four years. A native of Wyandotte, Mich., Hicks has enjoyed success at the highest level of golf, competing among the world's best. Most recently, he finished in third place at the RBC Canadian Open (July 27), his career-best finish on the PGA TOUR, behind a 13-under 267. Hicks used three rounds under 68, including a final-day 64, to vault himself to his third career top-10 finish -- and his second this year.
Q. Take us through last week at the RBC Canadian Open, where you finished third on Sunday.
A. I felt pretty good all week long. I played well in the practice rounds and I've been doing a good job of ball-striking for a few weeks now. If you look at my stats, I'm top five in fairways and greens in regulation for the season, so it's been a good ball-striking year in general, but things have really picked up in the last few weeks. I did some good work on the week off with my coach back home in Florida, and I found a new putter that seemed to be working a little bit better from the standpoint of feel and speed on the greens. For whatever reason it just clicked better than what I was using. We went up there and played the kind of golf that I like to play, which results in giving myself a lot of chances for birdies.
Q. What are some of the keys to the success you've found on the PGA TOUR over the past few years?
A. Over the course of my career, I've been pretty strong in fairways and greens at just about every level I've played. Even in the past, when I may have lost my TOUR card during my rookie season, the fairway and green stats were still pretty good. They weren't as high as they are right now, but it's always been a strong suit of mine. I'm also getting more comfortable with the guys I'm playing against and the courses I'm competing on. We're already set up for the playoffs, really, so our main goal right now is working on some different things around the greens to get better with scrambling and bunker play, like pitching and chipping. I'm trying to sharpen that up, because I know when it gets down to it, that's where you really separate yourself. Hopefully I can clean some of that up and keep making the birdies and see what happens the rest of the year, but the good thing is that I'm making birdies. If you're not making birdies you can be as good as you want with the other stuff but it's not going to matter.
Q. Speaking of your caddie, what's your relationship like with him? How does the player-caddie dynamic work?
A. I have a really good guy on the bag these days. I've been with him the whole year and we're having a lot of fun out there which is a big part of it, too. You need to have a great caddie on the bag but if he's not somebody that you enjoy being around, it doesn't really create the most fun work environment. A big part of just playing good golf is having good chemistry as well; just having someone that can help you out.
Justin Hicks/USA Today Sports Images
Q. What was it like to play in the #B1GADgolf Challenge against Michigan State in 2013?
A. It was a lot of fun and I was glad to be a part of it. I got a chance to meet Dave Brandon and talk with the coaching staff a bit while I was there. I also had the chance to look at the Weisfeld Family Golf Center that they had just put in, so that was great to see for the kids. It should go a long way towards recruiting in the future and hopefully bringing in some really good golfers as well as students to continue on our tradition there. It was a really fun day though, and the course was really good. Luckily, I played okay and took care of business, but I'm glad they have that tradition going. It's a cool thing they started and I know Dave's pretty competitive person and I think that's what makes him a good athletic director for our school. It's good he's going to pass that over to continuing a fun event with both us and Michigan State.
Q. Do you have any memories about the course here at U-M, where the men's and women's teams will both be hosting events this fall?
A. I talk to a lot of people about the course at U-M and I always tell them it's a great golf course. We really are blessed with a fantastic golf course with a fantastic layout. There are so many good holes there. They made just a couple of changes right when I was showing up, so the changes actually made it tougher. Once the ball was changed back in the early 2000s, the course started to shorten up a little bit, and it's on the landlocked side of things, so they can't really extend it out too much. That's where it kind of became a harder course, but it's a great golf course. It's similar to the courses I grew up on; there's a premium placed in keeping it in the fairway. Once you hit an approach shot to the green, you want to hit it close to the hole because there's some pretty good undulation to those greens and if you're not near the pin, two-putting can be a serious issue.
Q. What are your plans for the future?
A. For me, it's all about trying to get better at my job. People might not realize it, but there are a lot of different aspects of golf, and playing on the PGA TOUR, there are guys like Tiger Woods that play 15-20 times a year and play in all the majors as well as all the world golf events, and then there are guys out here fighting just to have the chance to play a full schedule. This year I was a returning player from last year's Top 125 so I got in most of the events, but I'm still trying to get into that next echelon where I can consistently be playing more majors and in world golf events. For example, at the World Golf Championships Bridgestone Invitational in Akron (Ohio) this weekend, I would play four rounds with no cut and a $9 million purse. The guy that beats nobody up until this week is going to make $50,000 for showing up. In contrast, to make that much in Reno (Nev.), where I'm playing at the Barracuda Championships this week, you'd probably have to finish 15th and you have to beat a lot of good players to do that. It's a different kind of schedule for me at this point, and I'm still trying to get to that next level. I'm getting in a better position heading to the playoffs, so hopefully we have a good run and we'll see if we can't compete for a championship this year. That's what it's all about. I'd love to have the opportunity to see some of these bigger tournaments and see where it can take me.
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