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HOGG HAS ALREADY BEATEN SOME LONG ODDS

SHARE HOGG HAS ALREADY BEATEN SOME LONG ODDS

Like most young golfers who've won a tournament or two, Eric Hogg has aspirations of someday playing on the PGA Tour. Although the odds of making the tour are long, Hogg has already beaten some big odds by making the field for this week's U.S. Open at the Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, N.Y.

It's quite an accomplishment for the 26-year-old Salt Lake native, considering that more than 6,000 of the country's best golfers tried to qualify for the 101 open spots (55 players were exempt) in one of the world's biggest golf events. And Hogg is one of just six amateurs who made it. He earned one of three spots in the local qualifying at Park Meadows three weeks ago and then last week grabbed one of two spots at the sectional qualifying in Denver.Hogg (don't say hog, it rhymes with rogue) will be one of six golfers with Utah connections playing in this week's tournament, joining Provo's Mike Reid and Dan Forsman, Orem's Keith Clearwater, St. George's Jay Don Blake and ex-BYU golfer Richard Zokol. But Hogg may be approaching the tournament with a little different attitude than the others.

"There's no pressure. I'm going to go back there and have a little fun," Hogg said prior to departing for New York Sunday. "Nobody knows who I am, except for a few people I played with in college."

But Hogg, who tees off at 5:18 a.m. MDT with Ed Humenik and Greg Chapman, is also going with some definite goals in mind.

"I'd like to make the cut and be the low amateur," he said. The first goal could be tougher than the second. Last year only one amateur made the cut and the year before none did.

Hogg first burst on the local golf scene as a long-haired 18-year-old at the 1981 State Amateur, where he survived five grueling days to become one of the youngest champions ever. He had been a two-time prep champion at Skyline High School, but the State Am title came out of the blue. In 1982, he became the University of Utah's top golfer, finished second to Rick Fehr in the Western Athletic Conference golf championship, and earned all-WAC honors and a trip to the NCAAs.

Then just as suddenly as he became a household name in Utah golf, Hogg disappeared. He dropped out of school and he stopped winning tournaments. Then he was gone, period. At last year's State Amateur, the word was that Hogg was a pro, living in Arizona. The story was half right. He was living in Arizona, but was still an amateur.

When his parents moved to Phoenix four years ago, Hogg decided to go with them and get away from a few personal distractions.

"I let some things get in the way of golf," he said, not wishing to elaborate. "I started having too much fun and got in with the wrong people and the wrong things . . . But I'm great now. I have my sights set on the right things now. I couldn't be more happy."

Hogg moved back to Park City this year in order to play the amateur circuit in Utah, which he says is better than in Arizona or many other nearby states. He was the second low amateur at the Provo Open before grabbing one of the spots at the U.S. Open local qualifying. He didn't get a chance to play in the Salt Lake City Amateur because he was in Denver that weekend preparing for the sectionals.

He plans to play in local amateurs this summer and hopes to refine his game enough to try the PGA Tour qualifying school this fall. He says he already has a sponsor lined up should he qualify.

After spending his first few years in Colorado and Idaho, Hogg moved with his family to Utah when he was in second grade. He started playing golf a couple of years after that and although he showed a lot of potential in baseball, he stuck with golf.

At the age of 16 he led the Salt Lake City Amateur at the halfway point, and he won the consecutive 4A prep individual state titles at Skyline before winning the State Amateur.

While in Arizona the past few years, Hogg caddied when the various golf tours came through the area. He worked with LPGA golfers such as Robin Walton, Heather Farr and Ayako Okamoto. He also caddied for David Ogrin of the PGA Tour. It was frustrating watching and not playing, but Hogg said it paid off for him.

"Caddying helped teach me how to manage my game," he said. "It also taught me course management and how to be patient and play one shot at a time."

The biggest difference in his game now, says Hogg, is maturity. "I'm getting a little bit smarter out on the course than I used to be."

On the course, Hogg's strength has always been his short game. But he credits improved putting to his recent fine play.

"I'm starting to make putts. I'm making all the 5- and 6-footers that I was missing and starting to make the 15- and 20-footers. That's the difference between an even-par round and three or four under," he said.

Hogg isn't expecting to shoot a four-under round this week or even an even-par round on the tough par-70, 6,904-yard Oak Hill Country Club course this week. A couple of 73s or 74s should keep him in the tournament through Saturday and Sunday, when he might get to play with some of the big boys.

"Everyone says to have fun, but I'm sure when I tee it up, I'll be more serious," he says. "There's a lot of incentive for me.

Hogg could very well go out and shoot a couple of 80s this week just like a most folks would expect from an unknown amateur from Utah. On the other hand, Hogg could pull a few surprises, just as he's been doing the last several years.