JASON GORE PROJECT – “BAD DAY” – ESPN GRANTLAND
Jason Gore was spending Father’s Day in an Albuquerque, N.M., hotel, a stopping off point on a drive from his home in Los Angeles to Wichita, Kan., site of next week’s Air Capital Classic on the Web.com Tour.
Pack up the kids, a quick trip to Starbucks and the Gore family would be on their way, but not before a brief detour back to his first Father’s Day as a father in 2005.
Nine years ago, Gore spent this Sunday holed up in his hotel room at Pine Needles avoiding the television at all cost and trying desperately to take a nap.
“The hardest part about Sunday in 2005 was the 3:30 (p.m.) tee time,” recalled Gore, who began the final round of the 105th U.S. Open tied for second place and just three strokes behind pacesetter Retief Goosen.
“You kind of wanted to watch the telecast to see how it was playing but you didn’t want to watch because of everything that was going on and I wasn’t really comfortable with what was going on.”
What was going on was magical.
Five years removed from a solid college career at Pepperdine, Gore was still making his bones as a professional when he qualified for the ’05 Open, which would be just his second major start.
He opened with rounds of 71-67-72 to land himself a spot in Sunday’s final two-ball at his national championship. It was a made-for-television event and the inevitable media frenzy was almost as concerning as the thick rough that used to ring the No. 2 course at Pinehurst.
“I don’t know what I was expecting. That was the hardest part. Trying to find something to do but doing nothing,” he laughed.
The Cinderella story began to lose steam when Gore played his first three holes in 3 over par. It was the same score Goosen posted over his first three and the two would go on to shoot a combined 25 over par.
Gore would tie for 49th place, but it would be just the beginning of his dream summer.
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He would win three of his next four starts on the Web.com Tour to earn a promotion to the PGA Tour and in his fourth start as a card-carrying member in the big leagues he won the 84 Lumber Classic.
The player that was referred to by one scribe as “some Joe Bagadivots” had arrived, and to Gore it couldn’t have been possible without all that Pinehurst pain.
“I think I learned so much more about myself at that point,” Gore figured. “Going into it I knew I was never going to be faced with that again. I’d seen the (worst), even if I played in the final group at the U.S. Open again. I was in the final group a couple more times that summer and that was easy.”
The whirlwind of that final round has faded with time for Gore. He remembers sleeping well the night before, eating breakfast and the media maelstrom that awaited him.
“My wife asked me if I remembered when we walked out of the hotel and there were flash bulbs everywhere,” he recalled. “I was like, ‘Do I look OK?’”
As Gore was preparing to get back on the road to Wichita the serendipity of Sunday’s leaderboard wasn’t lost on him. Erik Compton, the two-time heart transplant recipient who will begin the final turn at Pinehurst tied for second and five shots back, is this championship’s feel-good story.
“At least Compton is on Tour, he’s done well. He’s had his card several times,” Gore said. “I kind of came out as an 8 handicap coming into that week.”
Gore’s wife, Megan, has a much more vivid memory from that eventful final round, recalling with clarity every one of her husband’s 84 shots and a crowd that never gave up on the ultimate everyman.
“For me personally it was the roar of the crowd and how many people were still out there. The crowds didn’t go away,” Megan Gore said. “I went to the tallest person I could find and told him to narrate for us.”
Although nine years dull memories as well as scars, Gore does recall walking off the 16th green after his third consecutive bogey when Goosen, one of the circuit’s more aloof types, asked a seemingly random question.
“He asked if I ever played cricket? I said no but knew a little bit about the game,” Gore recalled. “He said, ‘We’d be playing a heck of a game of cricket as many overs as we have going.’ ”
Gore responded with a challenge to play a $5 match over the final two holes. “He lost it. It may have been the first time I’d ever seen him laugh,” Gore said.
Gore lost that match and the U.S. Open, but gained so much more – the confidence to go on and have one of the most dominant summers by a player not named Tiger Woods and the respect of golf fans everywhere.
As Gore walked off the 18th green, battered and bruised by Pinehurst, he was greeted by Megan and, at the time, his 8-month-old son, Jaxon. She told him she was proud of him.
“I remember walking off afterward and thinking that was awesome. We were disappointed, but it was a great week,” she said.
There is always a disconnect between results and reality in sport. Someone will likely have a “Gore” Sunday at Pinehurst today, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it was a bad day.