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My first major

by Gunnar Broin

11 min read
KU senior Gunnar Broin follows through with an iron shot during one of his rounds at the 2024 U.S. Open in Pinehurst, North Carolina. [Contributed photo]

Fresh off of his first appearance in one of golf’s major championships — the 124th U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2 — Kansas senior Gunnar Broin sat down with R1S1 Sports to recap his experience on golf’s biggest stage.

While the lifelong golfer has played in countless tournaments and had varying degrees of success throughout his life, it’s clear that nothing comes anywhere close to comparing to what he experienced last week in North Carolina.

After qualifying for the event through a grueling, 36-hole-plus-a-playoff day at a recent Monday qualifier, Broin got on a plane for Pinehurst and spent the next seven days living out a dream.

Here, in his own words, is a taste of everything that went into that dream, from the high points and best shots to the low moments and everything in between.

As luck would have it, Broin is headed back to Pinehurst later this week to play in the annual North-South Amateur Championships. While the course won’t be set up quite as difficult as the U.S. Open, nor will guys like Tiger Woods, Scottie Scheffler and Bryson DeChambeau be walking around, Broin believes that his recent experience at his first major will lead to plenty of confidence heading into next week’s event and the rest of his summer schedule.

Before he moves on to whatever lies ahead for his career, here’s a look back at a week he’ll remember forever as seen through his eyes.

Broin arrived at Pinehurst on Sunday night and already had plans to play a practice round with fellow-Jayhawk Gary Woodland on Tuesday.

Before that arrived, Woodland text him and said PGA Tour notables Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler would be joining them, “if that’s all right with you.”

“That was surreal. I just kind of laughed at him asking me if that’s all right with me. Those are only two of my favorite golfers who I grew up watching. In some ways, playing that practice round was more nerve-racking than the actual tournament. But they treated me great and it was an unbelievable experience. I just learned and picked up so much from those guys.”

Broin birdied the first hole he played with the three PGA Tour winners, giving him a little extra confidence to carry into the rest of the week.

It was Woodland, though, who spent the most time with him, both from the standpoint of giving him advice on how to approach his first major and for how to handle the crowd, the nerves, the course and everything else that went along with it.

“Gary’s just such an awesome person. He was amazing to talk to and he helped me so much. That’s just who he is and I can’t thank him enough for that. Even after he missed the cut (on Friday), he was texting me and hyping me up and being a great role model. That’s just the great guy he is. And he was a big part of this whole experience for me. It was awesome.”

KU's Gunnar Broin, left, poses for a photo with former Jayhawk and 2019 U.S. Open champion Gary Woodland after their practice round at Pinehurst. [Contributed photo]

After a couple of practice rounds and a few days of settling in, it was go time on Thursday. Broin teed off in the afternoon and just in case he wasn’t fully aware of where he was and that he was really playing in one of the biggest golf tournaments in the world, he received a quick reminder on his walk to the first tee.

“You have to kind of walk up and over from the range to get to the first tee, and then down a ramp, and as I was walking to the first hole for my tee time, here comes Tiger Woods walking up the same ramp after finishing his round.”

“I was already not relaxed. I was freaking out and shaking a little bit on the range and just kind of breathing and trying to tell myself to calm down and get it together. And then I saw Tiger. That did not help my nerves at all. I immediately thought, ‘Holy crap. This just got really real.’ Dude looks like he’s walking in slow motion. That’s how cool it is.”

After being announced by the starter — “from Shorewood, Minnesota, please welcome Gunnar Broin” — Broin went into his normal routine and tried to treat the event like any other tournament he had ever played in.

He knew it wasn’t, of course. But he wanted to play well and he knew he needed to be as relaxed and locked in as possible to make that happen.

With his mind racing, and unable to feel his arms, he teed up his ball and drew on his practice-round experience of playing with a couple of major winners in Thomas (2017 and 2022 PGA Championship) and Woodland (2019 U.S. Open).

“I didn’t even care if I made a 10 or if I made a 3. It was just like no matter what happens, it’s not gonna be harder than playing with those guys was. So, in a way that kind of relaxed me and I just went out and attacked it and tried to have fun in the moment.”

Broin opened the tournament with three consecutive pars, which quickly helped him settle in and reminded him that it was still just golf. His pressure performance at the Monday qualifier to get into the tournament, as well as being able to calm down enough to play with a few of the games greats, allowed him to block out all of the noise and play his game.

“I had already experienced being uncomfortable because of my time playing with them, so I think that made me more comfortable when it was time to tee it up for real.

“It was a combination of everything. I knew I could do it in that moment because of what I did at the qualifier, kind of finding out how your body operates in those pressure situations and understanding that you have what it takes to get through them.”

In many ways, Broin didn’t just get through it, he flourished in the face of it.

The KU senior shot 75 on Day 1 and put himself in contention to make the cut on Friday and stick around to play the weekend. That was his goal all along, and as soon as his Thursday round ended, he grabbed his caddie and went to the driving range to work out some of the kinks in his swing.

There was a social media post that surfaced that showcased him swinging away as the sun was setting, standing alone as the last man on the driving range that night.

“I knew I could do better and I wanted to play better. I didn’t hit the ball great in Round 1 and I wanted to get to the range and tweak things and get it fixed right away so I could be ready for Round 2.”

“That lit a fire under my ass and I knew I wasn’t done. I told my caddie I wanted this bad. I wanted to keep playing. And and I told him I was gonna make everything I looked at and make the cut. And I did it. That was pretty cool.”

Broin shot 68 on Friday, 2 under par, to comfortably make the cut by two strokes.

It was a chip-in birdie on No. 8 that solidified that he would stick around and also sent the crowd around the green into a frenzy.

In some ways, he still can’t believe he made it.

“You don’t really see on TV how big that slope is going up. My ball was on a downslope, too, which kind of helped me get through it. I knew if I left it short, it would’ve come back to my feet and I’d have the same shot again, and if it didn’t hit the hole it would’ve rolled 25 feet past.”

Broin’s caddie wanted him to putt it.

“It’s not that I didn’t want to putt it, I just knew I needed to get some sort of spin on this ball so that it had a chance of slowing down and staying on the green. When I hit it, I was like, oh that’s pretty good. And then it found the line and went in. I felt like I made a hole in one. Maybe the best feeling of my life. It was such an amazing feeling, with the roar of the crowd and everybody smiling and cheering.”

He finished the first two rounds ranked in the top five in the entire 156-man field in both strokes gained: short game and strokes gained: putting.

“It’s normally completely the opposite. I’m usually great and long off the tee and not as good around the green. But I’ll take it. I think, first and foremost, I got confidence from hitting a couple of longer putts ones early on and then it built from there.”

While he was pleased with his opening-round 75, Broin’s goal entering Round 2 was to make the cut.

“Absolutely. I knew coming into the day that I wanted to shoot even par. That was my number.”

After a bogey-free first nine, he moved to 2-under on the day with a birdie on his 10th hole. He gave all of that back with a double-bogey and a bogey in the next three holes, setting up a finish that featured a stretch of three birdies in a four-hole span, including that chip-in.

“It was all about grinding and surviving. I don’t know how or why it happened, but it was one of the best finishing five holes of my life. I really don’t know what to say. I was so locked in.”

Broin’s third-round 81 was the first time he really found trouble at the tournament, with three double-bogeys and a triple-bogey on the day. While he had hoped to fare better, the final number didn’t bother him. Remember, this was a 22-year-old amateur playing on Saturday at the U.S. Open.

“I think I probably had the most fun during that round because I hit it so good. But I hit too good. There were a few places where I hit it right where I wanted but it went 3 feet too far and found disaster.”

One of those moments was on the par-5 10th hole, where he took an 8.

“I remember walking off that green after making triple-bogey and the crowd was cheering for me. I’m sure it was tough to watch and it was like they were just happy I made it through it. I took my hat off and tried to get them going just to show them that I was fine. I wasn’t gonna be mad out there. Are you kidding me. It was sort of like, ‘Welcome to the struggle.’ But that’s golf. That was one of the hardest rounds of my life because I played so good but struggled to score because that course was so hard.”

Entering his fourth and final round, Broin was on the slate to be in the first pairing on the course.

He embraced it and attacked it, hoping to play his best round of the week on his way out the door.

“Absolutely it mattered. I didn’t want to finish last. And that was definitely in my head. But I also just wanted to enjoy the moment as much as possible.”

He shot 72 to finish +16 for the tournament and in a tie for 70th place. More important than that was the fact that his early tee time afforded him the opportunity to jump right back into his regular routine of watching the final round of a major with his family and friends.

“The hardest part about playing in an event like that is this is something I usually sit on the couch all day and watch, and I couldn’t do that until Sunday. So, I loved being the first one off the course because then I could actually watch the coverage and see who won and how it went down.”

They’ll talk about this one for a while. Maybe not because of Broin’s place in it. But Bryson DeChambeau’s wild finish and Rory McIlroy’s collapse down the stretch will be remembered in U.S. Open lore for a long, long time.

The fact that he’ll always be able to tell people he played in it will stick with Broin forever.

“It’s so cool.”

One element that brought him a little closer to that finish was that on the 18th hole earlier in the day, he faced a putt similar to the one McIlroy missed from 4 feet to lose the tournament.

Broin’s was from about 10 feet, but on the same line, so he knew exactly what McIlroy was looking at when he watched him step up to his ill-fated putt several hours later.

“That putt is like the scariest putt. There is so much break on that putt. It’s unbelievable. I just remember looking at it and thinking, I’m not even comfortable standing over this.”

The course created plenty of instances like that, but the moment itself was never too big.

Broin felt the nerves. He found himself in awe of some of the game’s greats who were on the same range or practice green as he was, going through their process and trying to lock in on their games to compete for the same title.

It was all more than he could’ve ever imagined or dreamed of. But he rose to the occasion and showed he belonged, proving that you don’t have to be a major winner or multi-millionaire to hang at these events. You just have to be good enough to get there and then play well when you are.

Broin played well enough to finish ahead of Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Viktor Hovland, Justin Rose and Dustin Johnson — all past major winners, who have more than 150 PGA Tour victories between them.

“That was cool to see. I’m not gonna lie. But that’s just one tournament. If I played them 10 tournaments, I’d maybe beat them once or twice. And I know that.”

In fact, of the players in that star-studded practice round earlier in the week, with Woodland, Fowler and Thomas, only Broin made the cut to play the weekend.

What I also know is that I proved to myself that I can compete with some of the best players in the world, but that’s golf. And that’s the beauty of it. You can play well or you can play terrible, but you’re always one tournament away from getting your confidence back.”

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