Sunday, January 29, 2017

Gunn says odds stacked against anyone from the North making it as a tour pro
   Jimmy Gunn, inspired by grandfather Donald Urquhart. Picture by courtesy of Andy Lyons
Jimmy Gunn was a long way from the Dornoch Firth last Wednesday. The bearded Scot, who grew up in the Highlands, found himself with a chance to win the Bahamas Great Abaco Classic, his first time in that position on the Tour.
Who did he think of most in the balmy breezes? His grandfather, an 11-time club champion at Golspie Golf Club and a three-time winner of the Sutherland County Cup, Donald Urquhart.
Gunn was five years old  when he started following Urquhart around Golspie, but that was 31 years ago. At 36, the pressure of 10 years in professional golf without a breakthrough started hitting Gunn in the restart of the third round.
Forty strokes in those nine holes turned a five-stroke lead into a two-stroke deficit to Andrew Landry—the Cinderella of last year’s U.S. Open—going into the final round.
“First of all, never give up,” Gunn said when we spoke on Wednesday night. “That’s one of the things he always said to me.”
With that in the back of his head, Gunn showed his tough Scottish temperament and shot 68 to finish second behind Landry.
Knowing how proud Urquhart would be after his best Tour finish, Gunn eventually flew home to Scottsdale, Arizona for qualifying into the Waste Management Phoenix Open.
“Where I’m from, nobody has ever made it as a professional golfer, so the odds are stacked against you,”  said Gunn as he passed through Fort Lauderdale Airport.
 “You can’t go through the school system playing golf and [with the weather] it’s only a half-season in the North of Scotland. "It’s a very hard road for a Scot to become a professional golfer, especially a tour player, unless he lives in the Central Belt or goes even further south."

Growing up without privilege established a base line for Gunn’s career. He worked on an oil rig as a teenager. In his early 20s he made £40 a loop caddieing at Royal Dornoch and supplemented that income working as his father’s apprentice in the carpentry business.
Following in Urquhart’s footsteps, Gunn won the club championship at Dornoch four times and the club’s open tournament, the Carnegie Shield, in 2006. As written in Urquhart’s obituary in the Northern Times, there was no prouder man he when Jimmy won the County Cup and later the Carnegie Shield at Dornoch.
Caddieing allowed Gunn the opportunity to meet Todd Warnock, eventual owner of the Links House Hotel in Dornoch and partner with Mike Keiser in the Coul Links project in the Highlands.
On his very first trip to Dornoch, Warnock was assigned a character all dressed in black, smoking self-rolled cigarettes. As they walked to Warnock’s shot in the third fairway, Todd asked Jimmy if he was a golfer.
“I’m the club champion,” was the response.   Wanting to know if Gunn was for real, the Chicago investor took a ball from his bag, handed Gunn a 4-iron and asked if would hit a shot. The sound of the compression was unforgettable, as was the ball flight. With that, Gunn tossed the club back to Warnock and said, “A four-time club champion.”
It was that self-belief that sold Warnock. Getting closer over the course of the next few days, Warnock asked Gunn if he was familiar with the Scottish alternative-rock band Del Amitri and its song “Move Away Jimmy Blue,” about a young Scottish Boy that gets swallowed up by his hometown. On their final day together, realizing the tough life Gunn experienced growing up, Warnock told Gunn, “You’re not going to be on the PGA Tour being the club champ at Dornoch.”
With Warnock as his first sponsor, Gunn based himself in Scottsdale, playing state opens and the Gateway Tour until qualifying for the in 2014. He missed keeping his card by a stroke and was without a true home tour after going through two stages of qualifying and a playoff to make the field in the 2015 U.S. Open.
At Chambers Bay, Gunn found himself on the range hitting balls next to Rory McIlroy. While some complained about the greens, Gunn grew up with heavy wind blowing off the North Sea and difficult conditions. He finished T-5 in putting and T-1 with 18 birdies to tie the likes of Jordan Spieth, Dustin Johnson and Jason Day. With a T-27 finish, he had a better week than Paul Casey, Jim Furyk, Lee Westwood, Ernie Els, Luke Donald and Jimmy Walker.
As he said to Scottish reporters covering that Open in Washington, “Coming from a small town like Dornoch, you have to follow your dreams.”
Those dreams are alive after The Bahamas.



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