From a life-changing freak accident and driving an Uber to get by to playing in his first Major at the same venue his dad played his last, Gunner Wiebe writes about perspective and chance in this week’s player blog ahead of The 151st Open.
You think you can, and you dream that you can make it to The Open as a kid, but the series of events that had to transpire for me to get to an event like this is so big I would have never gotten this far, at least in my dreams.
Playing this week and walking the fairways with my dad, who played his last Major here, is just so special. It makes you think that maybe there isn’t such a thing as coincidence, that maybe it’s a bit more of fate. It’s something that is so rare, when you have a father and son that have played in one Major, let alone one that is on the same golf course, only separated by nine years. It’s just wild.
He’s here with me this week, and we can’t help but smile at each other the whole time. It’s incredible special being able to turn around and say ‘do you remember this hole’ and ‘what did you do’, and try to come up with a game plan. He’s my coach too, so he’s wearing quite a few hats. If you can’t enjoy a moment like this, you probably need to be doing something else because this is the most enjoyable atmosphere there is. It’s The Open, it’s the only one that matters.
It wasn’t even that long ago I thought a freak accident had ended my career and I was never going to get to do what I wanted when I was a kid, let alone on this stage. I thought it was over. I walked into a glass door that I thought was open and it was shut, and in doing so I sliced my arm open pretty much through, narrowly missing my artery. Those could have been my last moments.
It was awful at the time and the rehab was very intense and difficult, but it gave me some wonderful perspective as a young person who maybe didn’t have as much adversity as others have in their early years. I was fortunate to grow up the way I did and it was a hard lesson, but one that was a great thing for me long term - although it derailed my golf career for a long time.
I realised quite fast that golf used to be the be all end all for me, and it was too influential in who I was as a person. If I had a bad day then I was in a bad mood, if I had a good day I was in a good mood. I was super fortunate to go through that and gain the perspective I did. I certainly don’t take much for granted anymore considering that could have been it for me. I met my wife pretty much at the same time and we have a wonderful daughter. I realised that life is much bigger than golf and when I reflect now it’s that it was a wonderful thing for me to go through: As much as I hated it at the time, I’m glad it happened when it did.
At first I was frustrated, I was quite bitter and maybe a bit resentful towards golf, and got as far away from it as I could. But then I worked in a couple of different industries and over time that bitterness went away some and I realised golf had an important place in my life in some capacity. Eventually I ended up working at a golf club because I just missed it. I was tired of wearing a suit, it never felt right. I had about three years when I worked odd jobs. I drove for Uber and Lyft just to get by, and I worked in finance for a while doing personal wealth management and then I worked at a marketing company and I think I made it six weeks and quit. I’m lucky I had some good mentors behind me and they suggested I meet with some people, and it led to me working as an assistant at Bel Air Country Club in Los Angeles. I worked there for three years, and my trajectory was to be a Head Pro one day. That’s where I thought my life was heading, and I was perfectly fine with that.
But things changed for my career when I won the National Assistants Championship in Florida in my second year working there. It didn’t register much to me as a big deal, because it’s a tier below what we do, but it was a big deal for the club and a couple of members took notice. I had one member in particular who said I don’t want you to work here anymore, and we met a couple of times and he provided me with financial support and general support. He forced my hand and I couldn’t be happier he did, and he’s actually here with us this week. It’s special for all of us.
When making decisions about what I was going to do next, my wife and I went back and forth for a month about me going to DP World Tour Qualifying School. We were trying to figure out how things would look for the next year if things went well and I came away with a job. We have a very young daughter, and we were trying to figure out if we could all handle me being away. On the last day of the deadline I looked at her and said what do you think, and she said I think you should do it. And then I went, and got my card. It was very cool, although it left her to fend for herself all year with only a couple of weeks I can go home in between. I’m very lucky, my wife is incredible and my daughter is by far the best thing we’ve ever accomplished, and being away is the worst. But we know that’s part of the gig, and I get to travel the world, play on a Tour that’s so well respected and with some of the best players in the world, so how bad can it be? I know the other side. I’ve had to work for a living in a proper job dressing up in a suit doing a 9-5, so I’ll take a bad day out here over a good day in what I used to do 10 times out of 10. I’m just fortunate to have the support team I have.
Getting through Q-School was one thing, and getting to a Major is another. Obviously after Australia it was a tough start to the year for me, which was frustrating because I felt like I’d played well and the results had been hard to come by, but then I finished second in the British Masters to earn my spot in my first Major. It’s a wild game.
Now that I’m here it’s been amazing, although it was definitely a little bit overwhelming to see the yellow scoreboards, the grandstands and the crowds when I arrived on Sunday. I played with Stewart Cink and Kurt Kitayama in practice so there was a few fans following, and it’s getting used to that environment. Beyond that it’s work as normal. Practice, play, and don’t overdo it. The experience is so enjoyable you don’t want to fall into the trap of playing 18 holes instead of nine and then practicing for three hours, which you could easily do. You also don’t want to cut yourself off from the fun but this week is intense, and I have a strong intent of what I want to accomplish.
That intent has nothing to do with score, it’s simply just to play as hard as I can for as long as I can, and I hope that runs through 72 holes. I have habits of taking a bit of a walk for a couple of holes where my mind goes somewhere else so the only goal I have is that if I can play as hard as I can then I’ll be very happy with how I finish. I want to enjoy the experience and I certainly have and will continue to, but when it comes to the competition itself I want to make sure I am giving myself a chance to play hard and intense and the way I know that I can.
I’m glad I have my dad here to do it all with me. He has a great love affair with links golf, and obviously his win at The Senior Open was quite special. It’s the same for me. You come over here and you remember why you play. My first experience playing links golf was at the Amateur Championship at Muirfield and North Berwick. I remember I couldn’t wait to tell anyone who would listen I’d hit a six iron from 120 or a wedge from 200, and it’s those things you remember the most. Beyond that I’ve caddied for my dad before in The Open at Royal Troon and all of last week I spent in and around North Berwick getting acquainted so I don’t feel like I’m trying to get the feel for links golf and the feel for the golf course at the same time.
I know that there’s going to be more than a couple of moments that are going to be testy and patience will be required but this is what we play for. That’s why you’re in the gym at six in the morning and at the range at nine o’clock at night sometimes, it’s just to prepare for moments like this. And I know if you prepare well – which I think I have – I don’t know why I couldn’t go out and have a good result. If I play well, I have as good a chance as anybody.