MERCHANTS man Brian Erskine pulled off one of the big shocks on the opening day of the Scottish Amateur Championship in the Highlands.
Enjoying a holiday in the picturesque Sutherland town is the 45-year-old’s main priority this week. But it threw up an added bonus as he claimed the scalp of Scotland squad member Conor O’Neil in the first round.
One down with two to play, Erskine let his Pollok opponent off the hook by taking a bogey at the 17th and halving that. But he squared the match by winning the last, where O’Neil was in trouble off the tee, before securing his win in style with a 19th-hole birdie.
“It’s always nice beating the youngsters,” admitted the 1998 Lothians Champion of Champions winner afterwards.
Erskine, who lost the opening two holes before getting his nose in front at the turn, also won his opening match when the event was played at Dornoch in 1993.
“To be honest, I’m mainly up here on holiday for the week and we’ve rented a cottage just five minutes along from the clubhouse,” he added.
“The second round is the best I’ve ever done in this event so we’ll need to wait and see if I can better that this time.”
His next opponent is Whitecraigs man Gordon Stevenson after he accounted for Dalmahoy’s Stuart Cochrane by 5 and 4.
Other Lothians winners on the first day of the SGU’s flagship event included Harburn’s Craig Deerness, Paul Ferier of Baberton and Longniddry’s Michael Bacigalupo.
Deerness, the beaten finalist in this year’s Lothians Championship, overcame having to play the course blind to beat Euan Paterson of Bruntsfield Links by 3 and 2.
“I had the club championship on Saturday then helped Harburn win the Courier Cup at Shotts on Sunday for the first time in 29 years,” he said,
“I’ve never been here before so you couldn’t say I had the best preparations. That’s part of the reason it wasn’t pretty out there but I’m through and hopefully I can progress from here.”
Ferrier, the No. 4 seed, played “solid” as he crushed James Bunch, a former Scottish Boys’ Stroke-Play champion, by 6 and 5.
“James is a member here so it could have been a tricky one but he got caught out by a couple of pin positions today,” said Ferrier.
Bacigalupo, the son of former top-flight rugby referee Johnny, came out on top in an all-East Lothian clash with Craigielaw’s Ross Noon. “I lost to Stevie McEwan at the 19th in the first round last year, so it’s nice to get the monkey off my back,” said the 20-year-old after a 3 and 1 success. “I was never down and parred my way in from the 13th. I’ve played Ross a few times and he usually holes a few putts but I managed to catch him on an off day.”
Later in the day, the Lothians contingent through to round two was boosted by James Ross (Royal Burgess), Grahame Robertson (Silverknowes) and Zander Culverwell (Dunbar).
Ross, the recent Sutherland Chalice winner, maintained his good form to beat Buckpool’s Jake Scott, who was using a pink-shafted Bubba Watson-style driver and also wore a fluorescent pink top.
“My pace putting was good and that’s going to be crucial on these big greens,” said Ross, a semi-finalist at Western Gailes 12 months ago.
Robertson progressed after beating Dalmahoy’s Stephen Smith by 2 and 1 in an all-Lothians tussle.
“My game was pretty hot coming home,” said Robertson, who won four holes in a row, three of them with birdies, from the 14th.
Culverwell swept aside Fraserburgh’s Andrew Hepburn 7 and 5 and was joined among the first-day winners close to the end of play by Dalmahoy’s Robert Carson.