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 week.
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 already."