- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 6, 2012

Two golfers who went to high school 10 minutes apart are separated by a single stroke heading into Sunday at The Neediest Kids Championship.

Josh Persons claimed the lead Saturday afternoon at TPC Potomac at Avenel Farm with a 1-under 69 to move to 8-under through three rounds. Fellow Fargo, North Dakota native Tom Hoge is just one stroke back at 7-under after he also scored 1-under.

Hoge isn’t just looking up at Persons on the leader board; he has been looking up to Persons since high school. Persons, 28, was five years older than Hoge and became something of a role model to the young golfer.

“He was one of those guys when I first got into golf that was a big name around Fargo,” Hoge said. “He’s someone I just tried to watch practice and kind of be like him. [I wanted to] follow in his footsteps going to a division one school.”

The windy, cold conditions on Saturday afternoon reminded the two golfers of growing up in North Dakota. Persons attended Fargo North High School, while Hoge went to the rival Fargo South.

“When we were going to school it was north and south— the two opposite ends of town, Persons said. “It’s a fun rivalry. I jabbed him in the locker room about it before we teed off.”

The two North Dakotans have been able to put that high school rivalry aside. They share the same swing coach back home at Fox Hill Country Club, John Dahl. They have practiced together. And they even had dinner together several nights this week.

“”I’ve known him for a long time. He’s been a good golfer ever since he was little,” Persons said. “It’s a pretty small community up there. We all kind of stick together and know each other.”

Persons, who qualified for the tournament on Monday, claimed an early lead by birdying three of his first four holes. If he can hold the lead, he will be just the 21st Monday qualifier to win a Web.com Tour even in the tour’s 23-year history and the first golfer since Ted Potter, Jr. in 2011 to accomplish that feat.

Hoge was able to jump into the second position by sinking an eagle on the 14th hole. In the first two rounds, he chose to lay up with 3- and 4- irons. But Saturday he took a risk that paid off.

“Not a very smart shot. That’s for sure,” Hoge said. “My caddie wasn’t really liking it a whole lot, but I just said, ‘I got this.’ Luckily it was a shot that I stepped up and executed really well.”

Persons and Hoge will tee off with Casey Wittenberg (6-under) at 9:50 a.m. on Sunday. Chris Wilson, Phillip Pettitt Jr., Will Wilcox and Alistair Presnell are all three back from the leader at 5-under and will tee off around 9:30 a.m.

The tee times have been moved up several hours because of inclement weather. The forecast calls for an 80 percent chance of rain and temperatures in the mid 40s. In other words, “it’s spring in Fargo, only we’re playing a much tougher golf course,” said Persons.

“When we played high school golf, it was in April and May. We had a lot of days that it was 40 degrees and 30 mph winds. It was a lot colder than this and a lot worse as far as the wind goes,” said Hoge. “It sounds like some Fargo weather. Hopefully it can keep us up there.”

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