07/21/05 — Wayne County natives volunteer at U.S. Open

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Wayne County natives volunteer at U.S. Open

By Gabe Whisnant
Published in Sports on July 21, 2005 2:03 PM

A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Wayne County natives Randy Collier and Jimmy Gillikin both experienced just that as they served as volunteer marshalls for the U.S. Open in Pinehurst in June.

Both avid golfers, the pair were two of 5,500 volunteers, which came from all 50 states and eight foreign countries, during the tournament. According to Collier, the USGA received 20,000 applications to volunteer.

"Our jobs were to keep the play fair for the golfers, spot the ball if it went in the rough and make sure the fans don't mess with the players," said Collier, an insurance salesman from Pikeville. "We kept the crowd under control and moving along."

With 45,000 fans in attendance, the volunteer workers needed a few practice rounds -- just like the players. Collier and Gillikin, the only two marshalls from Wayne County, attended practice sessions two weeks before the tournament.

For the most part, they served on the daunting, hole No. 16. The hole, which proved to be the most difficult through the tournament, was a 492-yard, par four.

Collier was particularly impressed with the drives by the long-hitters like Tiger Woods.

"They hit the ball so hard. It comes off the club head like a missile," he said. "The first day of practice on No. 16, Tiger hit one 350 yards, and they had to move the last crosswalk closer to the green. If not, he would be hitting people on the crosswalk.

"They don't really swing harder than we do, but they could really kill it."

Being around the greatest players in the world and seeing them in the heat of battle on the major stage was obviously unforgettable, but working with the fans proved just as memorable.

"I just enjoyed being around the people. The crowds were easy to work with," said Gillikin, who sells real estate and insurance in Goldsboro. "It's a different breed of sports fan. The beer was flowing, but they weren't very rowdy. Everyone was polite and quiet. It was amazing how quiet it got when Tiger went up the tee.

"Especially when you have 10,000 people pressed up on two holes."

They worked six-hour shifts during the practice rounds Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, then went as spectators the first two days of the tournament, before returning to the volunteer work on Saturday and Sunday.

"You saw mood changes from earlier in the week to the end," Gillikin said. "Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday you would see Tiger cutting up and laughing. Then, he was all business Thursday through Sunday."

Collier was particularly impressed with Phil Mickelson's demeanor.

"We saw all the big-time players and were close enough to basically listen to their conversations," he said. "The players were friendly to a point. Mickelson was the most polite and friendly. The others might smile and speak, but some didn't speak at all."

"Some were like I thought and some were jerks. They live in a different world than we do."

Would they volunteer again? Of course.

"I would do it again. The earliest the Open would be back in Pinehurst is 2013," Collier said. "They are going to try hard to get it in 2013. I would do it for any other tournament as well."