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Persons, Hoge know anything can and has happened at U.S. Open

Tom Hoge, left, and Samuel Sanders look on at the 5th hole during practice rounds on Monday in University Place. USA Today Sports photo1 / 3
Josh Person practices on the 14th green during practice rounds Tuesday for the U.S. Open in University Place, Wash. USA Today Sports photo2 / 3
Fargo golfer Tom Hoge, left, takes photos on the 15th tee during practice rounds Tuesday for the U.S. Open. USA Today Sports photo3 / 3

UNIVERSITY PLACE, Wash. — This could be the tournament — the U.S. Open — and the golf course — Chambers Bay — where a sectional qualifier, maybe even the last man in — like Josh Persons — can win a major.

This, in the opinion of the man himself.

"It's happened in majors before," Persons said on Tuesday. He even came up with a name: John Daly, who won the PGA Championship at Crooked Stick as a rookie in 1991 after being the ninth (and last) alternate to the field.

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Persons didn't learn until Sunday night that he was in the tournament as an alternate from the Rockville, Md., sectional.

For another opinion on the subject, ask Tom Hoge, a Fargo golfer like Persons and also, like Persons, an Open rookie as a qualifier in this 115th edition of the American national championship.

"I think this is the perfect situation for it," said Hoge, not long after he and Persons played a Tuesday practice round together at Chambers Bay. "There are just a lot of unknowns. There really isn't one style of player that's going to have an advantage here."

Persons tees off early Thursday (9:11 a.m. CST) with a chance, Hoge says. If length gets it done on this long golf course (potentially up to 7,900 yards), Persons' ball-striking skills can put him in the mix.

"He's one of those guys that can take on those long carries," Hoge said of his friend. "That's a big advantage if you do pull it off. Today he hit it great — it looks like he's going to have a real strong week."

Persons bounced the praise back at Hoge, who tees off this afternoon at 3 p.m. CST

"He's a great player," Persons said of Hoge. "Watch out when he gets some confidence going."

Hoge said his confidence got a bump last weekend with his best tournament so far in his first full year on the PGA Tour, a 12th-place finish at the FedEx St. Jude Classic in Memphis.

"That was a big step forward for me, just to be in contention and have a little heat on me," he said. "I felt like the course prepared me well for this week — it played firm and fast there."

Both players said Chambers Bay will have a say in who emerges after four days with the U.S. Open trophy.

"There's a lot to it," said Hoge, who played in the 2010 U.S. Amateur at Chambers Bay. "It's just so unique. There's nothing I've played like it."

The greens complexes are banked and bermed and anything but flat.

"That's kind of the trick," Hoge said. "How high do you go into each bank that it'll work in your favor but not go too far that you'll get in trouble? A lot of them, if you go too high on the bank, you'll go back across the green into bunkers or the fescue (rough) or whatever it might be."

Persons said the sheer expanse of grass offers opportunities to be creative.

"It's available," he said. "There's lots of room to do different things."

Bring it on, Persons said: this golf course, the best players in the world ... the U.S. Open.

"I'm just enjoying the ride," he said. "I'm hitting it pretty dang good. I'm excited."

Hoge stopped short of saying this U.S. Open is anybody's tournament. But nobody's out of it, either.

"I just don't feel like it favors anybody," he said. "If you're playing well, if you can stay in control of yourself and your thinking and keep yourself right there, you're gonna have a great week."