Gore not just one-week hit

84 Lumber winner shows he has what it takes to win on PGA

September 20, 2005|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Sun reporter

He slipped onto golf's radar screen at this year's U.S. Open, shooting his way to a share of the lead after the first two rounds and into hearts of the fans after handling a disastrous final round of 84 with a self-deprecating sense of humor.

On Sunday, 84 turned out to be a good number for Jason Gore.

After doubling his two-stroke lead going into the final round, Gore wobbled on the back nine in the 84 Lumber Classic at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort & Spa in Farmington, Pa., but held on to win by one shot. His first PGA Tour victory earned Gore a two-year exemption.

"Of course, it helps your confidence, but you can never be satisfied with what you do, and you just have to try to keep trying to get better," said Gore, who last month earned an automatic promotion by winning three straight Nationwide Tour events.

With a combination of girth and mirth, Gore has drawn comparisons to John Daly as a graduate of the grip-it-and-rip-it school of golf. But the beefy 31-year-old Californian also has shown that there is substance behind the silliness, and a well-developed game beyond the booming drives.

"Like I said before, you just try to learn something every day and try to become a better player," said Gore, who failed in two previous attempts on the PGA Tour, in 2001 and 2003. "You just take this as a steppingstone. I think that's what I'm going to try to do, put it in the pocket and keep on going."

Gore also will put $792,000 in his pocket, about 10 times what he earned last year on the Nationwide Tour. The victory had even more significance to Gore, since Joe Hardy, who brought the tournament to the lush resort he built, gave Gore a sponsor's exemption when he was struggling a couple of years ago.

"It's the same reason why I'm going to Boise [Idaho] tomorrow," Gore said of the Nationwide event he'll play in this week after his world ranking jumped to 88th after being 818th before Pinehurst. "You try not to forget where you came from."

Or where you nearly ended up. It was only four months ago that Gore had started having doubts whether he was ever going to make it as a professional golfer, and whether leading Pepperdine to the 1997 NCAA championship was going to be the highlight of what once seemed to be a promising career.

Gore talked about his struggles at Pinehurst, including a break-in of his car shortly before the Open in which everything was taken, even his underwear. The jokes helped hide the pain of not being able to provide for his wife, Megan Ann, and their son Jaxon, who'll turn 1 next month.

Asked Sunday when the low point of his career came, Gore said: "Probably around May when I was going to the store and was wondering if I was going to be able to get formula for my child, wondering if I was going to be able to afford it and wondering if I was going to make a house payment."

Earlier this year, Gore started working with a former high school teammate, Mike Miller, who's now a club pro and teacher. He also began talking with Florida-based psychoanalyst and sports psychologist Preston Waddington, who made an interesting analogy between golf and a legendary dancer.

"I think the first time I talked to him, he started talking to me about Fred Astaire, about how Fred Astaire would put chalk down on the sidewalk and he'd practice his moves," recalled Gore. "Once the music started, he just danced, and that's kind of the way it is.

"You can go out on the range, beat balls, work on your golf swing, but once you get to the first tee, just go dance, and that's really kind of what it was. I just kind of forgot about where my right arm needs to be or where my hand needs to be, just go have a good time, hit it, chase it and find it."

With the recognition he received at Pinehurst, Gore's fan base grew exponentially. By becoming the first player in nine years to win on the Nationwide Tour and PGA Tour in the same season, Gore undoubtedly earned the respect of his peers who now know that he's not merely a one-week (or more accurately three-round) wonder.

"It's amazing where a little perseverance and grit and maybe a little ignorance can take you," he said.

don.markus@baltsun.com

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