The late-afternoon leader board last Thursday, the first day of
the U.S. Open, was a veritable who's who: Nick Price (No. 1
player in the world), Jack Nicklaus (greatest of all time), Greg
Norman (most talent on the PGA Tour), Joey Gullion (best player
not in the top 30 on the Nike Tour money list this year).
For roughly two hours the 24-year-old Gullion was sending
spectators and sportswriters scrambling for their Open player
guides. He birdied four of his first nine holes and shot a
front-nine 31 -- one stroke off what was then the nine-hole Open
record. When he made his birdie putt on 9, he was tied for the
lead with Price, who was in the clubhouse at four under.
It dawned on Gullion that this wasn't the Nike Mississippi Gulf
Coast Classic when he walked up the 9th fairway and saw his name
on the giant scoreboard. "I looked up and saw Price, Nicklaus
and Gullion," said Gullion, who is 40th on the Nike Tour money
list. "That's what you've been dreaming about since you were a
kid. I hope somebody took a picture."
A picture would have been nice because, like any true Kodak
moment, this one didn't last long. Gullion followed his 31 with
a 39 that included four bogeys and left him at even par for the
day. "I'll take 70 out here any day, but I have to look back and
say, 'Damn, I was four under,'" said Gullion.
Before running up against the torturous layout of Shinnecock
Hills, Gullion's biggest challenge in golf has been to control
his wicked temper. His father, Joe, a retired Navy fighter
pilot, tells stories of dragging his son kicking and screaming
from the course. Last November, Gullion had a shot at earning a
Tour card in qualifying school but "went insane," as he puts it,
after a poor shot. He double-bogeyed and missed by two shots.
On the second day of the Open, three three-putt greens and a
heckler left Gullion doing a slow burn as he walked up the 18th
fairway. "On the 7th green somebody yelled, 'Go back to the Nike
Tour,' and that really pissed me off," Gullion said.
He ended up making the cut by two shots, but after an 81 on
Saturday he was last in the field, which meant the onetime
leader was first off the tee on Sunday and played with a marker.
He finished with a 76 to end up in last place at 301 for the
Gullion most likely would have been unable to play in the Open
had he not transferred out of West Point the summer before his
sophomore year to follow his coach, John Means, to Minnesota.
West Point grads are required to complete a five-year service
commitment. "I thought maybe I'd like to play golf for a living
instead of playing G.I. Joe," says Gullion. "Plus, I didn't like
putting the camouflage paint on my face. I've got enough zits
Gullion's last-place finish earned him $2,674, but a bigger
bonus might be the experience he gained by playing with some
established pros during the practice rounds. Gullion teed it up
on Tuesday with Tom Lehman, whose brother Jim is Gullion's
agent, and on Wednesday with Fred Couples, who plays out of
Gleneagles Country Club in Gullion's hometown of Plano, Texas.
"I learned that these guys hit bad shots too, so it's all right
if I hit a few," says Gullion. "If I can come away from here
with more composure, that's a victory."
COLOR PHOTO:JIM GUND For a brief, shining moment, Sunday's last-place finisher actually sat atop the leader board. [Joey Gullion]