John Huggan: Jimmy Gunn’s Bay of plenty

Jimmy Gunn plays a bunker shot on the 14th hole during the first round of the 115th U.S. Open Championship at Chambers Bay. Picture: Getty
Jimmy Gunn plays a bunker shot on the 14th hole during the first round of the 115th U.S. Open Championship at Chambers Bay. Picture: Getty
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ROLLERCOASTER ride for the Scot, but he made cut and hasn’t felt out of place.

He came off a broken man. Having just dropped a shot at each of his last two holes, a disconsolate Jimmy Gunn was five over par for the first 36-holes of the 115th US Open at Chambers Bay – and thinking there wouldn’t be a second 36. In truth, the 34-year old from Dornoch had a point. At the time, it looked like the halfway cut would fall on four over par at worst.

I didn’t come here just to try and make the cut

Funny things happen on Fridays at golf tournaments though. The wind kicked up a little. There were a few bad finishes by some well-known names. And it came down to this: if a 19-year-old amateur by the name of Nick Hardy made a par at his last hole, then Gunn and all of the other luminaries on 145 – the likes of Ian Poulter, Colin Montgomerie, Jimmy Walker, Sergio Garcia, Webb Simpson and Angel Cabrera – would be out. But if Hardy made a bogey or worse, Gunn and all the rest would be reprieved. Two more rounds of golfing torture would lie ahead of them.

And so it came to pass. Hardy dropped a shot. So, playing in his first major championship, Gunn, a former carpenter from the Highlands will today complete 72 holes. All of which is a far cry from his current place of employment, the Arizona-based eGolf Gateway Tour, and the struggles Gunn endured just to make it to Washington State’s first US Open.

The journey began with local qualifying at the Southern Dunes club in Maricopa, Arizona, not far from the new home Gunn has just bought in Phoenix with fiancée Jessica. After shooting a two-under- par 70 over the Fred Couples-designed course, the Scot found himself in a three-man sudden-death play-off for the last remaining spot. A 30ft putt disappeared on the first green and kept Gunn alive – and he won through on the next hole.

Next stop Memphis, where the former Golspie Golf Club champion shot three-under par over 36 holes to claim the first alternate spot from that site. But not before yet another play-off, this time over four holes against former Ryder Cup player J.J Henry. In all, Gunn played 60 holes of competitive golf just to get to the first tee in the US Open.

“In Memphis I played as well as I have all year, especially in the first round,” says Gunn. “I shot a couple under par and hit 17 of 18 greens. Even after missing out on automatic qualification I knew I had a good chance of getting in because the USGA hold back six spots for guys who move into the world top 60 in the week prior to the US Open.”

The call confirming his US Open debut came last Sunday evening. No more than 36 hours later he was on the vast range at Chambers Bay. And when Gunn glanced a few yards to his left, there was a young Northern Irishman hitting balls – world No 1 Rory McIlroy.

So far this year, McIlroy has earned $3,912,533 from seven PGA Tour events. Gunn, leading the money-list on the eGolf Gateway Tour, has played 12 times and put $51,165 into his bank account. For a few short minutes, two very different worlds intersected at America’s national championship.

Which is not to say Gunn has continually languished in golf’s third division in the seven years since he left his homeland to pursue a career in golf. In 2014 he played on the Tour (the second division). But not well enough to retain his card for this year. At the end of a disappointing season, he lay 112th on the money list, 12 places from safety.

This year has been better, though, as Gunn’s superiority on the Gateway Tour indicates. And he arrived confident he could do well over the controversial links-like Chambers Bay course.

“I think where I grew up has helped me on this course, even if the weather is a little bit different,” he says. “I’ve never played Dornoch this firm and fast, but the fescue grass on the greens and fairways is familiar. The putting surfaces here are a lot more undulating, but Dornoch’s greens have the same sort of roll-off areas. So there are similarities. You can putt from 150 yards off the green here if you want to.

“So many guys have been complaining about Chambers Bay. But I wasn’t one of them. I love the course. I love that good shots will sometimes be punished and bad shots rewarded. That’s the way golf is supposed to be.”

Maybe so. But Gunn was having a hard time sticking to his namesakes in the immediate aftermath of a second-round 73 in which he made only five pars. The presence of two double bogeys, five bogeys and six birdies on his card amply illustrated an erratic performance.

“I don’t think five over is going to make it,” he (mistakenly) said. “I’m disappointed. I hit a great drive on the 18th and ended up with a 
bogey. It went 370 yards. I’m mad because I hit it right down the middle and it ended up in a 

“All day I’d hit a good shot. Then I’d hit a bad one. Then I’d hit a good one. Then another bad one. It went on like that all day really. The short 15th was a perfect example of what I was doing.

“They had moved the tee up. I couldn’t get comfortable with the yardage and wasn’t sure what club to hit. So I was indecisive and hit a poor shot. The bottom line is I couldn’t string two good holes together.”

Still, despite his inconsistency, Gunn was eventually proved wrong in his post-round pessimism. Which has been a nice bonus for his parents, James and Wendy, and his daughter, Kirsty, all of whom made the trans-Atlantic trip to watch Jimmy in action. Even better, though, the only Highlander in the field hasn’t been overawed amidst such illustrious company.

“It is a plus to know that I can play some way short of my full potential and still be competitive at this level,” he says. “I know how good my game is though. I didn’t come here just to try and make the cut. But I certainly haven’t felt out of place.

“I can’t say anything has surprised me. I haven’t seen anyone hitting shots I can’t hit. But I am shocked by the condition of the greens. This is the US Open. I thought they would be the best greens I’d ever putted on. Some are okay.

“But on too many you have to rely on luck. I’ve seen a lot of putts that should have gone in but didn’t and a lot of putts that should have missed go in. But it has been a great week.”

Another might soon enough be in prospect. Although he had yet to hear anything either way late on Friday evening, Gunn has formally requested a sponsor’s invitation to the Scottish Hydro Challenge at Spey Valley, a European Challenge Tour event starting on Thursday. No, Rory won’t be there. But the greens should better.

As Jimmy Gunn knows only too well, life on tour is full of ups and downs.