UNIVERSITY PLACE, Wash. – It’s a long way from Circling Raven in 2004 to the U.S. Open in 2015.
Jimmy Gunn is the only one in the 156-player field at the 115th national championship that unfolds this week at Chambers Bay familiar with the journey.
Gunn was one of 12 players from Royal Dornoch, his home course in Scotland, invited to compete against a squad comprised mostly of Coeur d’Alene tribal members in September 2004. Those Ryder Cup-style matches forged a bond that Gunn will carry with him to the first tee Thursday.
“I went over (to Circling Raven) as an amateur,” said Gunn, standing by a crowded putting green at Chambers Bay. “I was struggling, playing on the Gateway (tour), doing OK here and there, not great and Bob (Bostwick, Coeur d’Alene Casino director of public affairs) called and said, ‘Can you fly up tomorrow?’ I flew up and met the CEO, played golf, had a great time and we obviously got along.
“I think it was a one-year (sponsorship) deal that ended up being two or three, and last year on the Web.com they were on my bag again.”
Gunn, 34, worked on an oil rig, built houses and caddied at Royal Dornoch before turning pro in 2007. He’s been at it for eight years on mini tours, including the Gateway, Web.com and currently the eGolf tour, with some help from the Coeur d’Alene Casino.
“The enormous potential was certainly there (in 2004), but I think it was the connection we had,” Bostwick said. “We just thought it would be a good thing to boost his opportunities and sponsor him, having our logo out there, even though it was the Gateway tour, we saw some potential that it might go further. It was a pretty powerful connection that everyone felt with the Dornoch Dozen, that’s what I call them. He’ll have a lot of people here cheering for him.”
Gunn has persisted through the ups and downs.
“You only really feel like (quitting) when you’re in contention and play badly in the last round and it’s, ‘darn, that cost me a lot of money,’ ” Gunn said. “There are a lot of guys that do quit. It’s a grind. I’m on the range at 5:30, 6 in the morning to get out of the heat in (his hometown of) Phoenix. I’m hitting balls, there’s always something to work on, to fix. You have to put in so much work and I’ve been doing that the last 4-5 years.”
Gunn placed 11th, the first alternate, at sectional qualifying in Memphis. He waited anxiously for several days before receiving a call on Sunday from the United States Golf Association that he had made the field. He’s been on site for a couple days.
Chambers Bay has drawn comparisons to Royal Dornoch as well as British Open courses such as St. Andrews and Muirfield.
“It’s the same (fescue) grass,” Gunn said, “but this is harder and faster than Dornoch has ever been. When you’re hitting balls on the range it’s the same feeling, pretty dusty, not many divots. It’s a bomber’s course. You want to get as close to the greens as possible. If you have 4- or 5-iron into the greens all week you’re going to be struggling.”
He’s not thinking beyond his first tee shot Thursday.
“If you’re not focused here you can make double, triple or worse,” he said. “It’s the hardest course I’ve ever played.”
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