"Joe. Sorry about callin' so early . . . "

"It's 6:30. Lemme alone."

"Here's the deal: Bob can't make it, we're playin' this unbelievable course an' . . . "

"How soon?"

"Fifteen min . . . "

"I'll be there."

You'll be there, but not entirely. You'll arrive in a state of semi-stupor and semi-grunge. No time to shave, or even to check whether the socks match. Or to yell much more to the wife than it's unreal-dreamy, while peeling rubber down the driveway.

You're a danger to polite society on the road but, hey, this is golf. When the speedometer hits 85, you cringe -- and then really floor it. In traffic jams, you juke to the right and fly by on the gravel shoulders. At red lights, you change into your golf shoes.

Your stomach is acting as though Mary Lou Retton has chosen it for a workout. The flip-flops are half because of how you're getting there and half because of what might happen when, and if, you do.

No time for practice. You leave the car running in the parking lot, and leave it on the run. Clubs clanking on your back. With about five minutes to spare, you huff onto the first tee, breathe deeply and say, very casually:

"Hi, guys."

This is approximately how Randy Erskine arrived at this U.S. Open. In a white Caddy that must at times have resembled something out of the Dukes of Hazzard.

Deep in sleep, Erskine was awakened by the executive director of the U.S. Golf Association at about 6:35 a.m. and told he could take a whack at the greatest y'all-come in sport if he could be on the tee in about an hour.

"But I'm not an alternate," Erskine mumbled to Frank Hannigan. "You are if you can get here," Hannigan said.

So began a hairy, and scary, chase scene that Hannigan announced to the few dozen golf junkies assembled at Oakland Hills at 7 a.m. as: "There's a guy from Ypsilanti drivin' like hell to get here."

Erskine's tee time was 7:36.

He launched himself into liftoff at approximately 6:50. Normally, the drive takes at least 50 minutes. And our harried hero still had to drop by the club for his tools and shoes.

Little wonder that his wife's first reaction to the stunning development was to yell to their daughter, Kelly: "Hurry and get the fuzz buster!"

Before joining Erskine on his mad dash, be sympathetic to the luckless fellow who made it possible. At 6:20 a.m., Mrs. Robert Tway called Hannigan: her husband was too ill to play.

Erskine was the third backup.

Following protocol, Hannigan phoned the first alternate from the section in which Tway qualified. But it was physically impossible for Gary Robinson to make it from Jackson, Mich., in time. Then Hannigan rang Ken Allard, he being an assistant pro at a club within minutes of Oakland Hills.

Nobody answered.

Hannigan was scrambling for a body, anyone who had completed the 36-hole sectional competition. Erskine wasn't ready, but more than willing.

He is the pro at Washtenaw Country Club, with a home just off the 15th hole. Since he had a 7:30 meeting with some members, his clothes already were laid out.

"There's a dirt road (leading from his home through the course to the clubhouse)," Erskine said, "and I looked like the Roadrunner drivin' it.

"Had to have been doin' 60 in a 25-mile zone. I undid the alarm system, grabbed everything and tore off. I honestly didn't think I was going to make it.

"I was using a car one of the members lent me, and it has a digital speedometer that goes to 85 and then just beeps a warning. It was beepin' all the way.

"I had to be going well over 100 almost all the time. No doubt. No question in my mind. People were going 59, and I thought they were stopped."

At a red light, he flipped open the trunk from the inside, scrambled out and grabbed his golf shoes. Back behind the wheel, Erskine changed just as the light did.

He must have been a sight.

"At (a jammed artery leading to the main road toward Oakland Hills), I went about two miles or so on the shoulder," he said. "It was paved, though. I waved at a lot of people, had my hazard lights on all the time.

"I wouldn't be surprised if somebody reported me to the police. I wouldn't have blamed them a bit."

Truthfully, Erskine was rather hoping to be pulled over.

"I'd have demanded a police escort," he said. "I'd have told him: 'You better get going, 'cause I'm leaving.' "

You would not be too confident about a golfer from a place that hinted of "yips" -- even if it is spelled Y-p-s. But the 36-year-old Erskine is quite good, having survived on the PGA Tour for several years and won the Michigan pro-am this week.

Still, he could not remember playing mighty Oakland Hills since the 1979 PGA. What raced though his mind as he played Richard Petty was an odd sort of queasiness:

"I was not one bit nervous. But I could not stop my insides from churning. My hands were perfectly calm, but my stomach was gurgling. I turned the radio off after about 18 miles, then turned it back on and tried to find some soft music."

As the threesome ahead of his was teeing off, Erskine squealed into the course. He took a few quick swings and managed to bump his tee ball from light rough to the green in regulation.

He was 40 feet from the cup.

Putting an Open course after days of practice is tough enough. Putting from memory dating to 1979 is about as frightening, in its fashion, as the ordeal he'd just survived.

"It was up a hill," he said, laughing. "Forty feet to go with my first putt, 25 feet to go with my second putt."


Calm returned after three holes, though his game never completely did. Even with an eagle at No. 14, when he sank a five-iron from 186 yards, Erskine finished with a six-over-par 76.

And a smile.

"The only reason I tried to qualify this time (after two previous failures)," he said, "is because it was here. And something close to par (in the second round) ought to make the cut."

Erskine finished in the early afternoon, then left to resume his duties at the club.

Would he be giving lessons?

"Only to myself."