Altvater: Where is Jason Gore? The star of the 2005 U.S. Open at PinehurstWritten by Fred Altvater | | BackNine@toledofreepress.com
“Arnold Palmer was never embarrassed to miss a four-foot putt” — Jason Gore
Through four rounds of the 2005 U.S. Open held at famed Pinehurst No. 2, Jason Gore was the new kid on the block with an ear-to-ear smile and effusive personality that earned him quality air time on television and won him a multitude of golf fans.
Gore’s first three rounds of 71-67-72 in the 2005 U.S. Open put him at even-par for the tournament and in the final pairing on Sunday with tournament leader, Retief Goosen.
Michael Campbell, the eventual winner, was one over par and Tiger Woods was six shots behind Goosen at three over par.
Gore would eventually post a 12-over-par 84 in that final round on Sunday and fall to T-49 for the championship.
Michael Campbell bested Tiger Woods by two shots that year to win his lone major championship and Jason Gore became just a footnote in golf history.
Neither Gore nor his playing companion, Goosen (81) played particularly well in the final round, and both have struggled to regain the form they displayed through the first three rounds at Pinehurst in 2005.
In my travels as a golf writer, I am fortunate to visit PGA, Web.com, Champions and LPGA Tour events and get to know more about the players who chase a little white ball around a pasture to earn their daily bread.
I am constantly intrigued to learn the back stories of the individuals that golf fans see kissing trophies and holding big checks each week. Professional golfers, like the rest of us, have families, personal problems and lives away from the golf course.
Jason Gore is one of those interesting stories. As a youngster, he loved playing golf and showing off his incredible talent for accomplishing even the most difficult golf shot.
He found the University of Arizona not to his liking and transferred to Pepperdine University, early in his collegiate career.
Gore was a member of the 1997 NCAA Division 1 Championship team at Pepperdine and won both the California Amateur and California Open that same year, which earned him a spot on the 1997 Walker Cup team that defeated Great Britain and Ireland 18-6.
Tiger Woods would have been a member of that very same Walker Cup team, had he not turned professional in the fall of 1996. Justin Rose was a member of the GB&I Walker Cup team and would go on to gain prominence when he nearly won the 1998 Open Championship while still an amateur and later would win the U.S. Open Championship.
Back then, Gore enjoyed flaunting his superior ability on the golf course and the game was always fun. Like Arnold Palmer there wasn’t a shot he wouldn’t try and more often than not, pull off.
Every golfer knows that one bad shot can ruin an otherwise perfect round. For a professional that one bad shot can mean the difference between making a paycheck that week or a quick trip to the airport on Friday evening.
One bad shot can also lead to a succession of erroneous efforts that can wreck a career and leave a permanent mark on a golfer’s psyche.
A fear from a dark hidden place creeps into their conscious mind. Have they used up all of their good shots and lost the ability to produce the quality of golf fans demand and, more importantly, they expect from themselves?
Imagine dealing with that type of pressure every day at your chosen profession. A misplaced sales order, a problem with a product delivery, a fight with your wife or a sick child at home caused you to under-perform at work and BAM! No paycheck to pay the weekly bills.
Professional athletes deal with those problems every week, plus they have the added pressure of knowing that every swing could be their last.
Tiger Woods and others have shown us that injury can bring down even the best of all time. An athlete with a long productive career is the exception rather than the norm.
Nothing illustrates this point more than Jason Gore’s career.
He turned professional after his Walker Cup appearance in 1997 and spent a couple of years toiling on the Web.com Tour (Nationwide Tour). His game and confidence progressed and in 2005, he won three titles on the Web.com Tour to earn an immediate battlefield promotion to the big show, the PGA Tour.
He continued his brilliant play and three solid rounds at famed Pinehurst No. 2 put him in the final pairing on Sunday at the U.S. Open.
He was playing out a real life scenario from the movie, “Tin Cup.” The young rookie comes from nowhere to contend in a major championship, on one of the biggest stages in sport and on one of the most iconic golf courses in the world.
He embraced the moment with a smile that drew in even the most hardened cynic and a passion that only a rookie could exude.
There was no worry about embarrassment here, only the pure joy of excelling at a game in its purest form and at its highest level.
Gore did exactly what PGA Tour rookies are prone to do and plummeted to a T-49 finish, with a final round 84. His love for the game was apparent and he immediately became one of the most popular players on tour.
His poor finish at Pinehurst didn’t cause any long-term damage and he bounced back to win the 84 Lumber Classic in September. In just eight starts on the PGA Tour in 2005, he earned $717,000 and appeared to be headed for a productive PGA Tour career.
Two more solid years followed and then things started going sideways for the likeable Gore.
In 2007 he missed nine cuts in 27 starts and finished No. 141 on the money list. The slide continued over the next two years and he missed 24 cuts in 57 events in the 2008 and 2009 seasons.
A shoulder injury forced him to undergo surgery and, like a marriage on the rocks, golf had lost its allure.
The ebullient Gore that we saw playing with such enthusiasm in the 2005 U.S. Open was gone.
When he returned to the course, after his shoulder surgery, bad shot after bad shot drained his once supreme confidence and golf became a business rather than just a game.
It became a burden to go to the golf course and his play was the source of considerable embarrassment.
The one thing that keeps professional athletes awake at night is the fear of being embarrassed in front of their fans.
Every professional athlete takes great pride in their ability to perform in front of adoring fans. Every athlete’s fear is losing that ability to perform at the highest level and look like a mere mortal in the sport at which they had previously excelled.
Playing a game that once was child’s play becomes a 10-ton weight dragging them under and they flounder to regain their talent and confidence.
Previously, Gore had played the game with enthusiasm and flair, just like Palmer, there was no shot he wouldn’t try and he enjoyed playing the showman to adoring golf fans.
Now he worried that every shot would cause further embarrassment and prayed no one was watching.
He considered leaving competitive golf and began looking around for other career paths to follow. The bottom came when he was overlooked for the head coaching position at his alma mater, Pepperdine University.
Now, 38 years old with a family and no marketable skills, he faced facts and realized he had to get back to the range, rediscover his once stellar golf game and earn some money.
Gore sought the advice and wisdom of a former tour player and golfing mystic, Mac O’Grady. O’Grady not only helped with swing changes, that have produced better golf shots, but he also helped instill a positive attitude in the veteran.
Gore has learned to accept his misses. He has gained an understanding that golf is, after all, just a game and should be played as such.
His improved golf swing and a positive attitude have produced lower scores and he earned his 2015 PGA Tour privileges via finishing inside the top-25 on the Web.com Tour this season.
Gore credits a characteristic of Arnold Palmer that helped him adopt a more positive attitude and release his fear of embarrassment on the golf course.
“Arnold Palmer was never embarrassed to miss a four-foot putt.”
Every amateur knows and understands the embarrassment of trotting out their golf game in front of strangers. That fear can drive many to give up the game and greatly reduces the enjoyment from playing golf.
Gore, through necessity and hard work, faced his fears and is set to embark on a new chapter in his golf career with another shot at glory on the PGA Tour.
Sports fans love an athlete who struggles, gets up from the mat, dusts himself off and returns to the top of his sport.
Gore has seen the heights and felt the depths in his career and may just be ready to get back to the top.
Fred Altvater offers golf tips and videos at www.toledoohiogolflessons.com. Email him at BackNine@toledofree press.com or follow him on Twitter @tolohgolfr.