Potter, Kelly, Hicks play strong at Open Championship

Ted Potter, Jr. hits his tee shot on the first hole during the first round of the 141st Open Championship at Royal Lytham & St. Annes Golf Club.

Ted Potter, Jr. hits his tee shot on the first hole during the first round of the 141st Open Championship at Royal Lytham & St. Annes Golf Club.

LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England -- When the light was falling out of the sky Thursday night, three Americans - Ted Potter, Jr., Troy Kelly and Justin Hicks - were fighting the cold sunlight in their first rounds at an Open Championship.

For Kelly and Potter, the trip was planned very quickly as they gained entry due to a playoff finish at the Greenbrier Classic just two weeks ago.

Hicks was playing in his fifth major and second in 2012 having missed the cut at Olympic Club in last month's U.S. Open.

For the 28 year-old Potter, the trip was his first ever to the U.K. And while he had a passport, it was for trips across the northern border and not across the pond.

“I had a blast out there today,” Potter said after a 1-under 69 on Thursday. “From tee to green, I played really well today, I left a lot of putts on the edge of holes, I felt like I could have shot 3 or 4 under, but I’ll take 1 under.”

Kelly, 33, lost to Potter in the three-hole playoff at Greenbrier and would have played in the True South Classic in Mississippi if not for the Open spot this week.

Like Potter, two weeks ago Kelly needed every start to get himself in position to keep his card for 2012. With his finish in Greenbrier virtually assuring Kelly will have his card for 2013, he now can try to ride the wave into a more successful 2012 season.

But the learning curve started before the first round commenced.

“Never, I’ve never seen it this late.” Kelly said of his 4:00 tee time on Thursday. “We had lunch at noon and my wife was looking for shoes and it just didn’t feel right.”

Struggling out of the gate with a double-bogey, bogey start on the third and fourth holes, the Washington native had to refocus his energies if he wanted to have a chance for the weekend. He finished with a 2-over 72 and is T-71.

“Obviously not being over here very much I didn’t take the medicine and I tried to get it up close to the green with a lob wedge and it hit the lip and came back in,” Kelly said of his travails at the third hole. “Overall it's fun, it’s a learning experience for me still.”

Hicks took the more conventional route to Royal Lytham, earning his spot in a Dallas qualifier by shooting 67-63.

The 37-year-old Michigan Wolverine has spent most of his career on the Web.com Tour and other mini-tours with only 26 starts on the PGA Tour, 23 of those coming in 2011 when he earned just $284,990 and lost his card.

His limited major career of now five appearances was highlighted in 2008 when he shot a first-round 68 at the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines and was tied for the lead with Kevin Streelman. Hicks would go on to shoot 80 in the second round and finish 74th that week.

Unlike Potter and Kelly who arrived Monday on the John Deere charter and got a couple of practice rounds in, Hicks arrived on Saturday and got started right away, getting nine or more holes in every day at Lytham.

After shooting a 2-under 68 Thursday, Hicks recalled the round that ended at 8:55 and the uniqueness of finishing with the sun setting.

“There was a couple of times when we probably had a few more distractions then a lot of the groups out there because they were trying to close up shop here and there and we had a few phones going off and vendors trying to close their garages,” Hicks said. “But for the most part, it still had the feel of a major venue.”

Each player has a very good chance to make the cut, with Kelly the only one on the outside of the cut line, but Round 2 can be problematic with the excitement or euphoria of Round 1 under their belts.

But Kelly feels the success of two weeks ago is the best medicine to play well enough on Friday to be around for the weekend.

“I feel once you see a little bit of success I feel like you start to really believe in yourself,” Kelly said reflecting on his runner-up finish at the Greenbrier. “I think that’s huge thing out here and not having the success I think I could have had the last couple of years. You can really believe that if you play well you can compete out here and it was really big to get over that hump.”

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