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A Fill-In Reaches First Tee With Best Drive of the Day

Times Staff Writer

Randy Erskine was getting ready to get up and go to work early Thursday morning when the phone rang in his home at Ypsilanti, Mich.

“Can you get here in time for a 7:37 tee time in the United States Open?” asked an official-sounding voice from the Oakland Hills Country Club.

It was 6:30.

“I’m not even an alternate,” said Erskine, who was awake only because he had an early teaching appointment at the Washtenau Country Club, where he is head professional.

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“You are if you can get here,” replied the official, adding that Bob Tway, who had the 7:37 starting time, had called in sick and that Erskine was the closest candidate.

“I told them I’d be there, but I didn’t really think I could make it,” Erskine said later. “I had to dress, get to the club for my shoes and clubs, and turn off the (burglar) alarm and then get to Oakland Hills through the morning rush-hour traffic.”

It was about 36 miles, a trip that normally takes 50 to 55 minutes.

“Before I left, I told my daughter to get the fuzz-buster,” he said. “I figured if a cop stopped me, I’d commandeer him for an escort, but I never got stopped. I was going 85 or more, that’s as high as the speedometer went. When I got closer to Detroit, I could see the traffic practically stopped on Telegraph Road, so I drove on the shoulder for at least two miles, maybe more. I can’t believe I wasn’t stopped, or didn’t hit anything. I was scared all the way.”

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When he came to a stoplight near the course, Erskine jumped out of the car, opened the trunk and grabbed his golf shoes.

“The people must have thought I was crazy,” he said. “I changed shoes while the light was changing.”

Erskine slid to a stop in the Oakland Hills parking lot just as the last player teed off in the threesome ahead of his. He didn’t have time to hit a single ball or take a practice putt.

“I was racing so, I couldn’t calm down,” he said. “I was absolutely hyper. I kept thinking, ‘Calm down,’ but I couldn’t. Here I was in my first U.S. Open, and I had no idea what I was doing. I hadn’t played the course in four or five years and I was still running 90 m.p.h. when I teed off.”

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Erskine took three putts on the first hole, a 436-yard par-4, and it could have been worse.

“I was about 40 feet from the hole on my first putt and I left it 25 feet short. I didn’t start to calm down until the third hole. I’d been reading about how tough these greens are, but I really had no idea.

“I was lucky because Tway’s caddy was waiting for me with the yardage charts and a wet towel and the other stuff you need.”

Erskine, 36, a former Michigan amateur and PGA champion who tried the tour for five years without winning, finished with a 76, six over par. The big shot was an eagle-2 on the 465-yard No. 14, where he holed out his 5-iron second shot from 186 yards.

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“I’ve played Oakland Hills maybe five or six times in my life and I’d never parred No. 14 before,” Erskine said. “Then I eagle it. Can you believe that?”

When his round was over, Erskine showered, changed his clothes and drove back to Ypsilanti to finish the afternoon’s chores at Washtenau Country Club.

“There’s work to be done,” he said. “After all, I sneaked away from the office for a round of golf this morning, so I’ve got to get back and tend to business.”

He’ll have more time to get ready today. His tee time is 12:05 p.m.

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“I sure won’t drive as fast as I did today,” he said as he left.


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