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Giving it his best shot

Ask USF men’s golfer Tyler Hitchcock what is most important to him, and some would imagine the answer would be golf.

At least that’s what USF golf coach Jim Fee would expect him to say.But the sophomore is always making sure he doesn’t take the game too seriously. As he returns to the range, he jokes with his teammates about working too hard.

“Hey, don’t you guys know that practicing is overrated?” he asks.Hitchcock, though, is the last person anyone would expect to skip practice.Over the summer he played in the pinnacle of college and non-professional competition: the U.S. Amateur. Besides being one of the most prestigious events that the United States Golf Association holds, the U.S. Amateur awards invitations to the Masters to two finalists.

“Every day, before I went up there, I was like, ‘Damn, I might as well practice a little more,'” Hitchcock said. “I got a chance to go to the Masters.”

His older brother, Riley, was Tyler’s caddie in the tournament.

“It was really fun to be there,” Riley said. “He was out there playing with some of the best golfers in the world as an amateur.”

After rounds of 74-68, Hitchcock landed in ninth place into the Top 64, which qualified him into the first round of match play.

Even though Tyler was knocked out in the first round, Riley walked away from the tournament with a new fondness for his brother’s game.

“It was kind of an eye-opening experience,” he said. “How he really has the potential to take this to the next level.”

Riley believed in his brother so much that he sent him an e-mail when everything was over. The e-mail had quite an effect on the younger Hitchcock.

“About two months ago, I really didn’t have aspirations of being a professional,” Tyler said.

“It’s just really something I wanted to do. I’ve seen a lot of people struggle trying to make it on mini-tours and stuff.

“But after the Amateur, my brother sent me an e-mail. There were a lot of heartfelt things in it. He was like, ‘You have the talent to go pretty far with this game, you have a lot of things going for you, so it’s up to you whether you want to do it or not.'”

While growing up, the brothers were close but never enough, Tyler said.

“He’s my older brother. Really, growing up we were pretty close, but we never had like deep conversations,” Hitchcock said. “So, when he says something like that, it kind of hits me.”Hitchcock’s game has taken a turn for the better after his brother’s correspondence. As a freshman, he had a stroke average of 75.66, and even though the season is young, he has already noticed an improvement in his game. In the Bulls’ first tournament at Reynold’s Plantation in Macon, Ga., Hitchcock led the way for the Bulls with rounds of 73-71-75, which was good enough for a tie for 24th place.

During Fee’s 10-year tenure as men’s golf coach, the Bulls have never won a conference championship, and with Hitchcock playing well, Fee is focusing on the Big East title in the spring.”We’ve had teams that have won tournaments, not on an annual basis though. I think this team has a good chance to have one of those seasons,” Fee said. “Our two main goals this year are to win our golf tournament that we host and win our conference championship.”

Fee says that a big part of the Bulls’ success this season will depend on Hitchcock.

“Tyler is kind of emerging as a leader a little bit,” Fee said. “He will definitely play a role, if not leading the team then certainly having an impact on the team’s performance.”

As much as Hitchcock makes sure he does not take the game too seriously, it was he who was on the range earlier, videotaping his swing with a camcorder and analyzing it in the golf team’s conference room. It’s Hitchcock who gets up at 6 a.m. to workout with the team, and it is

Hitchcock who dreams of playing golf professionally one day.

His brother, however, hopes that day comes soon.

“If he ever makes it on tour,” Riley said. “He’s got a caddy.”