Michigan Golfer ON-LINE

Warm Warwick Welcome Awaits Tour Rookie Booker
By John Bebow

Pontiac native Eric Booker is training for this year's Buick Open the way some of his fellow PGA Tour pros get ready for the majors--two weeks off from tournament play, practice time with his coach and a few rounds on the tournament course, Warwick Hills Country Club in Grand Blanc.

It might not be a major for everyone else, but Booker knows a win for him in the Buick would be a major story. The 35-year-old Tour rookie spent several years as Warwick Hills' assistant pro, made friends there who helped fund his move to the Nike Tour last year, and returns often for swing tips with his coach, Warwick's new assistant pro, Andy Park.

"It would be nice to come home and play well," Booker said in late June, in between tournament rounds at Westchester Country Club in suburban New York City. "If I win, it's not just good for me, it's good for the area. It would make for a good story."

Even without a strong finish on his home course in August, Booker's rookie tour season is already a great story. With earnings of $300,000 through mid-June, he's poised to return for a second Tour season in 2000. He's earned some impressive television time so far, nearly winning the Honda Classic in March before faltering on the back nine Sunday and finishing third, and leading into the weekend in New Orleans in May.

All that despite a series of odd injuries reminiscent of those suffered by another Michigan native, Tour veteran Dan Pohl. Booker's aches and pains this year include a bad wrist, a sore neck, a muscle tear in his rib cage, and a strained hip flexor.

"It's kind of freaky," Booker said, noting that he expects to be healthy for the Buick. "Now I've just got to out and win a tournament."

Booker doesn't trace his success to any major mental or physical change in his game. Instead, he's simply working on fundamentals with teacher Park.

"We knew when I started on the Nike Tour I'd be playing on tougher courses with harder greens so we've worked a little on my ball flight, making sure I'm hitting the ball higher," Booker said. "Basically, all we do is work on fundamentals."

Apparently, Booker isn't the only player liking what Park has to say.

"He's so darn busy up there at Warwick that I can hardly get time to see him myself!" Booker said.

But come Buick Open week lot's of folks will likely make time to congratulate Booker on an impressive, if somewhat belated, start to his PGA Tour career.

"We knew all along that he was something special," said Warwick Hills head pro Nick Berklich. "He was always going around the course here in five, or six or seven under. When Eric has been in contention this year, it's been electric around here to say the least. The services here at the club probably suffer a little bit because all the workers gather around the televisions to pull for him."

You can be sure Booker won't be asking Park to fix this "pull."

John Bebow is managing editor of Michigan Live, a statewide Online news and information service. He can be reached via-email at: bebow@ic.net

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