BIRMINGHAM, Mich. — In the Golden Anniversary year of Gene Sarazen's immortal double-eagle at the 1935 Masters, a young Taiwanese named T.C. Chen accomplished the rare feat Thursday at Oakland Hills for the first time in the 85-year history of the United States Open golf tournament.
T.C. (for Tze-Chung) was 256 yards from the cup on the 527-yard, par-five second hole when he drilled a 3-wood shot that hit in front of the green, rolled up and disappeared in the cup for a 2.
"When I heard the crowd, I knew that the ball would be pretty close, but I never thought it would be in the hole," Chen said. "I didn't know it until two guys told me as I walked onto the green."
Buoyed by his incredible shot, Chen birdied the next hole and continued on to rip Oakland Hills--Ben Hogan's feared and respected Monster--to shreds with a course record five-under-par 65 for a one-stroke lead after the first round.
Chen, 26, a part-time tour player from Taipei, Taiwan, prepared for his first U.S. Open by winning the Korean Open and the Japan Open in April. But he had to shoot his way into this tournament in a qualifying round two weeks ago at Bethesda, Md.
Fred Couples, one of the longest hitters in golf history, is second after shooting a 66 by the simple method of hitting the ball so far that it sailed over all the hazards that frighten normal men.
By way of contrast, Couples used a 6-iron for his second shot on the hole where Chen made his double-eagle. Couples' drive carried 325 yards, leaving him 200 yards for his 6-iron. He took two putts for a birdie.
"It was fun out there, it's a fun course," said the often moody Couples, who only last week struggled to an 84 at Westchester.
Couples' driving was awesome all day. On the first hole, 436 yards, he had 80 yards for his second shot, a sand wedge. That meant his drive carried more than 350 yards.
On No. 18, a 453-yard par-four that yielded more bogeys--and worse--than it did pars, Couples drove over the tops of two huge bunkers that caught many drives during the long round, which was twice delayed by rain and lightning. He banked his second shot, a 6-iron, off a hump in the green, and the ball curled around a few feet from the hole for his sixth birdie.
Seven players bettered par 70 over Oakland Hills' 6,996-yard course. After Chen and Couples, all the others had 69s. The group included long-hitting Andy Bean, the only tour regular who hits as long as Couples; Tom Kite; Jay Haas, and two former Brigham Young players--Mike Reid and Rick Fehr, a mini-tour player not on the PGA tour.
Reid, one of the \o7 shortest \f7 hitters in the game, holds the distinction of having won more money ($807,841) than any other player in golf history who has not won a tournament.
A group of eight, headed by pre-tournament favorites Lanny Wadkins and Craig Stadler, shot even-par 70 on a day that began cool and windy and wound up wet and windy.
"The day showed us all four seasons in a single day," said defending champion Fuzzy Zoeller, who came in at one-over-par 71 after making a double-bogey on No. 16.
The weather and the pesky, undulating greens were the main topics of conversation until Chen electrified the crowd by picking up three strokes on par with a single shot.
"Maybe the scorekeepers got mixed up," said one disbelieving golfer when Chen's score went up on the leader board. "It's got to be a mistake."
But it wasn't, and U.S. Golf Assn. officials went to the record books and discovered that no one all the way back to Horace Rawlins, the winner in 1895, had ever made a double-eagle in this tournament.
"I hit a good drive, had 235 yards to the front of the green and another 21 yards to the hole," Chen explained. "I hit a perfect 3-wood, straight to the pin. It made me feel great and so surprised because it had never happened to me before."
It was not Chen's low round in the United States, however. He had a 64 at La Quinta in the final round of the 1983 Bob Hope Classic.
"I think today was a better round," the 140-pound Chen said. "It is in the United States Open and it is such a famous tournament that everyone will know about it."
Asked what the reaction would be in Taipei, Chen scratched his head and said: "I don't know, I don't know when they will hear of it. I did not see any Chinese press here today."
Chen learned the game from an older brother, Tze-Ming, when he was a teen-ager.
"We lived near the Loinkou Country Club, and every day after school, when I was 17, I went to the course and my brother taught me how to play," Chen said. "I hope that someday Tze-Ming will come to play in the United States."
In the fall of 1983, Tze-Ming won the Dunlop Phoenix tournament in Japan by defeating Tom Watson in a playoff. This qualified him for the 1984 World Series of Golf at Firestone Country Club in Ohio, where T.C. caddied for him.