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August 17, 2004

Success in silence

From: The Journal, NY - Aug 17, 2004

(Original publication: August 17, 2004)

MAMARONECK — Kevin Hall looked at his caddie and instantly they knew what the other was thinking. The only communication they needed was a nod and a smile.

Hall stuck his tee shot on the par-3 No. 7 hole on Winged Foot's West course to 8 inches, setting up an tap-in birdie. Hall and his caddie, Ricky DuMont, confidently knocked fists en route to matching the course's best nine-hole round of the morning.

"From the distance, we both knew it was a 6-iron shot," Hall said. "We didn't have to say anything."

That type of communication is essential for Hall, who is deaf.

The 21-year-old Cincinnati native contracted meningitis when he was 2 1/2 and while hospitalized lost his hearing. He can read lips, but he cannot speak. He uses sign language to communicate.

Hall let his body language do the talking after yesterday's first round of the U.S. Amateur. He walked off the final green gleaming after he birdied three of his final four holes for a 4-over 74.

"I will take 74 any time here," Hall said through sign language with his father, Percy Hall. "I thought I was on my way to an 80. And that wouldn't have been bad on a day like today."

In his first U.S. Amateur, Hall is in prime position to make the cut. The reigning Big 10 champion needs a score around par on the East course today to advance to tomorrow's match-play round of 64.

If Hall does advance, it will be another chapter in a truly remarkable career. In 1999, he won the Franklin D. Roosevelt Inspirational Award and was named the U.S. Deaf Federation Player of the Year.

"To see him do the things and do it with such courage amazes me," Percy Hall said. "He never gives up. That's where we pride ourselves with him. Regardless of what the situation, he doesn't give up. If he shoots 80, it's going to be his best 80."

Hall, who will graduate from Ohio State next spring, hasn't had many rounds like that lately. This year he set a Big 10 Conference championship 54-hole record. He torched the field by 11 strokes, highlighted by a 29 during the front nine of the second round.

Hall has never let deafness impede his drive or his ability. In fact, on the course, he uses it to his advantage.

"Sometimes I feel like I am all alone," Hall said. "I don't mean it in a negative way. It sometimes can help me focus and block everything out."

The one person he invites into his head during a round is DuMont. They share an interesting dynamic and have compatible senses of humor. Ironically, they probably interact more than any golfer and caddie.

The two first met when Hall was 16 and got a job in the clubhouse at Glenview Golf Club in Cincinnati, where DuMont used to be a professional. They developed a brotherly bond and clearly have a solid chemistry in this their fifth tournament working together.

"The kid is unbelievable," said DuMont, who's caddied for Hall for six weeks. "He's got a great temperament. He realizes this is the game of golf, not the job of golf. He's very good at something he likes to do and doesn't lose that focus."

Hall intends to make a career out of golf after this week. Since his eligibility at Ohio State is done, he plans to turn pro, starting out in Nationwide and Hooters tour events and working his way up.

In the meantime, he has his sights on winning an Amateur title. And teaching his caddie sign language.

"It's kind of a sign shorthand," DuMont said. "When we are together, we usually don't even sign."

"He's really bad at it," Hall interrupted with a smile. "Really bad."

Copyright 2004 The Journal News, a Gannett Co. Inc.