Teeing up at the Buick
by Terry Moore & Jack Berry
By winning last year's Michigan PGA, Dearborn pro Brian Cairns will be teeing up soon in the Big Show, a.k.a. the 1997 Buick Open. That's if he can find a tee. Although he has never played in the Buick, Cairns has played in one Tour event, the '91 Doral, where a Monday qualifying round of 66 earned him one of four tournament spots. "I was so nervous when they announced my name, I couldn't find a tee," laughed the affable Cairns. He went on to shoot 76-78 to miss the cut. "But it was a great experience," says Cairns. Likewise he looks forward to his first Buick. "I'm familiar with the course which will help," says Cairns. And he has one key already for handling those first tee shot jitters: "If the nerves are bad, I'll just sit back and hook it." When reminded that the first hole at Warwick has O.B. off the left, Cairns quickly adds with a smile: "Well, I better hope to tee off on 10!"
Someone who handled his nerves well at Warwick Hills was Randy Erskine, the five-time Michigan Open champion, who played in the Buick ten times. His best finish was in '78 where he finished tied for 19th place with a one under par total of 287, earning $1200. "Do you know what a 19th place finish would earn today?" mused Erskine. Well, last year Gil Morgan tied for 20th place at the Buick and cashed in $15,000. "But I had good success at the Buick. I missed the cut only twice, I believe, in ten tries," said the 49-year-old Great Oaks CC pro. "I seemed to go there with a lot of confidence and had lots of fans in the gallery_friends, sponsors and the like." Erskine's fondest memory is when his name was atop the leaderboard in the '80 Buick. "I teed off really early and finished with a 68. But then a thunderstorm came up and play was suspended for over three hours," recalled Erskine. "So my name was leading the Buick the entire afternoon."
One of Erskine's contemporaries, Gary Robinson, didn't fare as well at the Buick. "In four events, I never made the cut," said Robinson now a pro at El Dorado GC "I missed the cut three different times by a single shot." And it wasn't due to poor play either. Robinson's 36 hole totals in three of those tries were all respectable: two, three and one under par. "The talent out there is just so tough." Robinson remembers drawing two of longest hitters on Tour in successive Buicks, John McComish and Steve Thomas. "On the 457 par four 15th hole, McComish hit a drive and a nine iron while I hit a good drive and had to hit a three iron," said Robinson, a '86 Michigan PGA champion. "Then on the next hole, John gets up and flies his drives about 315 yards on the par five 16th. Then I watched him hit his three wood to within two feet of the cup for an eagle." (No wonder McComish was immortalized by sports writer Dan Jenkins when he described the 6'6" long-hitter as the guy "with the two foot comb in his back pocket.") Because of such heroics, it was easy for club pros like Robinson to stand in awe of the Tour players. "Yes, you do get star-struck at times. But it's a great experience."
Sharing that thought is Jeff Roth, Michigan's PGA Player of the Year in '96. "It's always something special to play against the very best in the world," said the Flint GC pro who's played in four Buicks. Roth first qualified in 1983 when he was as assistant at Wabeek CC. "I shot a career round for me then at Bay Valley, a 69. I hadn't done anything but win the state assistant's title and all of the sudden I thought I was ready for the big time," chuckled Roth. "I don't remember much about that first Buick but I do know I was definitely over my head and very nervous." Roth says he also missed the cut quite handily after "a pair of mid-70's." Since then, Roth's game has developed into one of best in the state filled with accomplished club pros but still he's yet to make the cut in four tries at Warwick Hills. "I think I try too hard. I can't understand how I can compete and play well in our Sectional events with very little practice and preparation," said the 39 year old Roth. " But when I go to the Buick, I hit all of these balls and practice hard and still can't make the cut." Asked why he places so much extra pressure on himself, Roth had a keen insight. "Well, as a club pro you never know if that particular Buick might be your last Tour event. The Tour is never a given," said Roth.
Tom Gieselman earned a special note on the Tour last year at the Buick. After starting with a front nine 41, 'Goose' came back with a 7 under par 29 highlighted by back-to-back eagles at 3 and 14! Gieselman eagled the par five 13th hole after a terrific three wood close to the hole and then eagled the par four 14th hole when he drove the 322 yard four par and ended up two feet from the cup. "I was told afterwards that back-to-back eagles hadn't been done on Tour for something like seven years," said the 35-year-old Gieselman. "Then this year I was watching the L.A. Open and Scott McCarron does the same thing. The announcer starts to say that the last player to have done that, and I'm waiting to hear my name on national TV, was_ Dave Stockton Jr. over 18 months ago," said Gieselman. Fortunately, Gieselman's father later set the record straight in a letter to GolfWorld.
Of course, just qualifying for a Buick takes some doing. Usually there's 40 top notch players vying for a precious two spots. In the last three years, Gieselman has made the select Buick field with stellar rounds of 67, 68, and 69. Gieselman says what surprised him most at the Buick is the rapid pace of play. "It seemed as though the Tour players just race from their drive to their second shot and then just run from there to the green. It's only when they reach the green does the pace slow down."
Jack Seltzer has some long memories from the Buick. The former Michigan Open and PGA champion's first Buick came in 1969 when Seltzer was just 18 years old. "Back then, you could pay your $75 or so entry fee and tee it up on Monday. I shot 74 at Flint GC and made it," said Seltzer. In his first round, Seltzer was paired with Dewitt Weaver and Jackie Cupit. Was he nervous on the first tee? "I was scared to death," laughed Seltzer. "I looked down that first fairway lined thick with gallery and I'm thinking to myself, 'I'm gonna kill someone!' " In fact, Seltzer ripped one right down the middle of the fairway. He ended his first Buick with a pair of 82's. As a club pro, he has competed in three other Buicks but never made the cut. "I think I just tried too hard especially with so many friends urging me on in the gallery."
So what advice would he give Brian Cairns as he frets about his inaugural Buick? "Don't get caught up trying to become a Tour player that week. Don't hit a thousand practice balls," counseled Seltzer. "But most importantly, just enjoy the experience."
No Michigan professional has played in more Buick Opens than three-time Michigan Open champion Steve Brady, now assistant professional at Oakland Hills Country Club. Brady was two years out of Saginaw Valley State College and an assistant at Bay Valley Resort when he had his best Buick, a tie for 27th in 1984. Brady shot 69-67-73-71_280, eight under par and nine shots behind winner Denis Watson. That was the first of 10 trips to Warwick Hills for Brady who now regards it as something of a second home. "I know a lot of the marshals and I always have a lot of family from Saginaw." Steve's gallery? The Brady Bunch, of course.
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