U.S. Open golf experience revisited: KU’s Gunnar Broin played on the highest stage

University of Kansas senior Gunnar Broin climbed atop the No. 1 tee at iconic 117-year-old Pinehurst (North Carolina) Golf Course No. 2 at 2:31 p.m., Eastern time, last Thursday.

The 22-year-old Shorewood, Minnesota native stood just a few feet from his caddy, who handed him his driver from a blue camo bag with the word “Kansas” on one side — the Jayhawk logo and “Rock Chalk” on the other.

What happened next — the first-tee announcer at the prestigious U.S. Open introduced him in front of a 2024 golf major gallery that included 10 family members and six high school buddies — remains a blur to Broin, believed to be the first active KU golfer to compete at a PGA major since Matt Gogel at the 1992 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach in California.

“It was pretty surreal. I don’t really remember it. It was like I kind of blacked out,” Broin said Thursday in a phone interview with The Star.

Let the record show Broin crushed a drive that put him in a position to par the 402-yard, par-4 opening hole. He went on to shoot 5-over 75 on Day 1, then sizzled to 2-under 68 on Day 2. His two-round score of 143 placed him in a tie for 37th, good enough to make the cut with 73 other golfers, including just three amateurs.

The 68 tied for the sixth best score of the day.

Broin slipped to 11-over 81 in Round 3, then finished with a 2-over 72 to claim 70th in the third golf major of the 2024 season.

He placed third of 16 amateurs who advanced to the Open at various qualifying tournaments around the country. Broin survived a playoff in qualifying on June 3 in Columbus, Ohio, to earn his spot.

“It was a struggle,” Broin said of battling nerves early on in the 2024 U.S. Open, “but walking up that last hole on the last day on Sunday, that was pretty cool, too, on Father’s Day with a lot of people there for me. To have that experience with them, being able to share that with my caddy who has been my swing coach for about 10, 11 years ... making the walk with him and taking it all in was really special.”

The whole week in North Carolina proved “special” for Broin, starting with an early week practice round with KU grad/PGA Tour veteran Gary Woodland.

“I played with Rickie Fowler and Justin Thomas in that group as well,” Broin said. “That was pretty special. It was probably the most nervous I was all week other than probably the first tee. ... They are just normal people, really nice, really down to earth.”

He continued.

“They want to see everybody succeed and they want to see the game of golf grow. It was pretty cool to hear them talk about everything. It was a dream come true,” added Broin, who indicated the best advice Topeka native Woodland gave him entering the major was “to feed off the crowd and take it all in but use it as your advantage. You don’t need to do anything special to play well. Just play your own game and really take everything in and stay in the present.”

Broin — he’s yet to win a college tournament in two years at KU after starting his college career at Colorado State — obviously played quite well at the Open. His personal highlight came on No. 17 of Round 2. He chipped in for birdie — one of three birdies in the last five holes that day that allowed him to make the cut.

“That was my goal. I absolutely thought I could make the cut,” Broin said to The Star. “I wanted to finish low amateur. I just think my focus level was not there (in Round 3). That’s something I can take from this as a learning experience. How to put four rounds together, how to stay in that mental state of keeping the pedal down. Keep grinding and every little stroke matters. I proved that the last day, which is really nice, but the third round is big for me to build off of. Play the worst, but I learned the most from that round. All positives are being taken out from that.”

Broin — he finished inside of the top 20 in two of KU’s golf tourneys during the 2023-24 season (one top-10 finish) after three top-5 finishes as a junior — has an immediate chance to build on the momentum gained at the U.S. Open.

Next week he will compete at the North-South Amateur back at Pinehurst No. 2. That will include rounds of stroke play Tuesday and Wednesday with the top 32 golfers entering match play.

After that he will compete in the Trans-Mississippi Amateur on July 8-12 in Andover, Kansas. Then it’ll be the Minnesota State Amateur on July 15-17 in Bloomington, Minnesota, the Western Amateur on July 29-Aug. 3 in Dayton, Ohio and the U.S. Amateur on Aug. 12-18 in Chaska, Minnesota.

“This past week has made me realize a lot about myself and my golf game especially, and I’m looking forward to the challenge,” Broin said of the summer events. “I know it’s not going to be easy or perfect at times, but, mentally speaking, I think I’m in a really good spot. I can take things that I learned last week and put them into every tournament that I play in basically the rest of my life ... and kind of get some momentum in for the fall season.”

Broin has decided to use his super-senior season that’s available at KU instead of turning pro at this time.

“I’ll be the first to say I don’t think I’m exactly ready to turn professional yet,” Broin said. “So why not stay in college one more year and keep developing a little bit? I didn’t have the best season last year and it’d be hard for me to turn pro and succeed right away.

“I think if I get one more year and can keep developing, then I could set myself up for a little bit more. Honestly, I love it in Lawrence. And the coaching staff has been great to me and I’ve obviously transformed my game to get almost here. Who knows what one more year could do? I’m ready to run it back and play for coach Bermel (Jamie, KU golf) again.

“He’s changed my life and so I absolutely want to come back.”

Broin had four rounds in the 60s during his senior season with a 72.59 scoring average. He had seven under-par rounds on the season and was KU’s top individual in two events.

“Every event is an opportunity,” Broin said. “And I’m looking forward to seeing how the team can build off of even my week last week. I’m hoping some of those younger guys can see, can prove to themselves that they can play on that stage too. They can. They can beat me and succeed in their own right.”

Of perhaps contending for an NCAA title as a super-senior, he said: “The coaches preach this all the time: Getting better each and every day and keep building off that. I am starting to see some of the results. There’s a lot of work to be done and I’m excited to see what could happen.”

Bermel is happy to have Broin on the 2024-25 KU roster after this exciting U.S. Open experience that thrilled KU nation and brought some attention to KU golf nationally a week ago.

“By the last day, there were so many people that were just yelling, ‘Rock Chalk.’ It was kind of getting to be every hole, which was cool,” Broin said.

“We’re really happy for Gunnar,” Bermel said right before the start of the tourney. “I thought he was making really good progress this spring but didn’t quite have the results. I’m certain this validates his hard work and commitment to getting better. This is a great opportunity to play in one of the greatest golf events in the world on an unbelievable golf course.”