When things can’t get much worse, Gunner Wiebe tends to be at his best
As soon as he hit the ball, Gunner Wiebe knew he was in trouble. Big trouble. And we’re not talking about one of those glass-breaking, apologize- to-the-neighbors baseball accidents many of us remember from the sandlot days of our youth.
This was a high stakes, make-or-break moment at the 2010 USD Callaway Invitational, the university’s signature golf tournament. Wiebe had buried his second shot into a pile of mulch 25 yards from the green, and, seemingly, his hopes of winning his match.
“I’m a feel player, and I’m always tinkering around with the way the golf club feels in my hands,” he says, then deadpans, “I guess I should’ve tinkered a little more with that shot.”
When he arrived to survey the lie and his subsequent options, it became clear that what he originally deemed a difficult shot was leaning more towards impossible. A right-handed player, Wiebe had absolutely no chance to hit the ball from his normal stance. To take a penalty stroke at that critical stage would surely have ended any hope of victory, both for him and his Torero teammates.
But golf is a game where nerves of steel and a capacity for creativity are what separate the great players from the good ones, and Wiebe capitalized on his considerable reserves of both; hitting his third shot left-handed to within about six feet of the pin, and draining a par putt that left his opponent reeling and rattled.
“It was ridiculous to win a hole hitting that kind of shot,” he says. “You don’t practice that. You just do it. I went on to win the hole and the match after that. It’s definitely one of my favorite moments on the course during my time at USD.”
And there are plenty of memorable moments to draw from. Whether it was becoming only the fourth USD player in school history to win medalist honors at the WCC Golf Championship, being named Amateur Star of the Year by the San Diego Hall of Champions or outdueling USD Golf Coach Tim Mickelson in an 18-hole playoff to earn the lone amateur spot in a PGA Tour event at Torrey Pines, Wiebe seems to always hit the right shot when it matters most.
It’s a trait that runs in the family. Dad Mark Wiebe has earned his living for the past 30 years on both the PGA and Champions golf tours, earning four career victories along the way. He serves as both a mentor and a motivator to a son who, after graduating from USD, plans to follow in his father’s footsteps and earn a spot on the PGA tour.
Perhaps most importantly, he’s still got the game to keep the younger Wiebe on his toes, which has made for some awfully exciting father-son matches.
“Last summer, we played like eight times in 10 days,” Wiebe says. “Dad beat me four or five times, and I beat him about the same number. I mean, it was really good golf, and we both ended up playing really well in subsequent tournaments after that. We definitely keep each other sharp.”
Which will spell trouble for Wiebe’s future opponents on the golf course. Big trouble.