Golf: From the San Juan Open to the U.S. Open, Jimmy Gunn is building his game to compete with the best

Karl Schneider The Daily Times
The Daily Times

FARMINGTON — During the San Juan Open last weekend, it wasn't hard to find Jimmy Gunn on the course, you just had to look for the biggest gallery.

Fans cruising the course in their own or borrowed carts didn't follow the 34-year-old Scot around the course to get a glimpse of the 2013 San Juan Open champ. They wanted to see the player who tied the likes of U.S. Open and Masters champion Jordan Spieth, Dustin Johnson, Louis Oosthuizen and Jason Day for the most birdies — 18 — at the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay in University Place, Wash., the week before.

No one could have blamed Gunn — who finished second at the San Juan Open — if he skipped his trip to Farmington after finishing in a tie for 27th at the U.S. Open and earning more than $64,000 just four days before the opening round at the San Juan Country Club, especially considering what he went through to earn his spot in the 156-man U.S. Open field.

Residing in Mesa, Ariz., Gunn played in a local qualifier in Phoenix, and sitting at five-under par with three holes to play he appeared to have his ticket punched to the sectional qualifier in Memphis, Tenn. But he finished bogey, bogey, bogey to land in a three-man playoff.

He won the playoff and made his way to the Memphis qualifier, where he missed the automatic bid by one shot and again found himself in a playoff, this time vying against PGA Tour member JJ Henry for the first alternate spot.

Again Gunn survived the playoff and eventually made the U.S. Open field.

When he got to Chambers Bay, Gunn played a few practice rounds in the days leading up to the tournament, but that was it. The only time he spent on the driving range was a short period of time to loosen up. The plan worked for Gunn, and it was reminiscent of playing on his home course, Royal Dornoch, in Dornoch, Scotland.

"There's no range there," said Gunn, who moved to the Phoenix area permanently in December 2007. "You don't even warm up. You just go to the tee and go."

The just play mentality was something Gunn picked up last summer while playing on the Tour. He used to be like almost every other pro, staying on the driving range for hours, working to create and recreate the perfect swing. But practice upon practice upon practice began to take its toll.

"I'm doing a lot of things differently now. I played way too much golf. I did way too much practicing and just burned myself out," Gunn said. "When I went to the U.S. Open I said, 'I'm not going to do that.' It's really cool to stand on the range and hit balls beside Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy all day, but I wasn't going to do that."

His new routine paid off at the U.S. Open, and playing a links-style course didn't hurt either.

Gunn said Chambers Bay played like a links course in the sense that it was hard and fast, and you had to use the slopes of the fairways and greens to put the ball in good spots. But there were two major difference between Chambers Bay and a true links course.

"It played like one for sure, but it wasn't a true links course because true links courses run right alongside the water," he said. "It played like a links course, but no links course is 7,900 yards."

Links course or not, Gunn played confidently at Chambers Bay.

He had seen and practiced a lot of the shots he faced at the U.S. Open, shots made as an amateur in Scotland. And on 18, during Sunday's final round, Gunn reached deep into his arsenal of shots and amazed everyone, electing to putt through the fairway, 32 yards from the pin, and rolling the ball one foot away.

"It was pretty long, and you can do that in Scotland. If I was an American, I don't know where I would practice that shot. So that was definitely an advantage because I've hit that shot before," Gunn said. "I've lived over here for the last six years so I don't know when the last time I hit that shot was, but I definitely thought that I had it in me to get that kind of thing out of my game."

Gunn hasn't cracked the world golf rankings. He doesn't even have a status on the Tour this season, relegated to playing the minitours around Phoenix and Monday qualifiers for events.

But the U.S. open is considered the toughest test in golf, and Gunn said that "without a doubt" it was the toughest four days he'd spent on a course. Not only did he survive the test, he proved he belonged.

"I didn't feel out of place all week," Gunn said. "I felt like I should be there, and I think with my result I showed that."

Karl Schneider is the sports editor for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4648 and Follow him @karltschneider on Twitter.