DALLAS, TEXAS | Jason Gore causally flips on his cell phone to look at 2021 second round U.S. Open Final Qualifying scores Tuesday during one of the multiple rain delays. He scrolls down the list of players until he sees his name and says, “I’m 1 under now and if I got hot with a few more birdies when we restart, who knows? I’m going to the U.S. Open either way this year, so if I have to bring my clubs and play, I’m good with that.”
Ultimately, the affable former full-time player didn’t make it as a contestant in the U.S. Open this year. He missed qualifying by four shots, and, as a result, missed an opportunity to compete again in the event of his greatest notoriety and one of his greatest disappointments. Playing in the final-round pairing of the 2005 U.S. Open with defending champion Retief Goosen, Gore shot a final-round 84 at Pinehurst No. 2, falling to a tie for 49th spot. He never got close to those major-championship heights again.
As soon as the 36-hole qualifying event at Dallas Athletic Club concluded, Gore returned to his role as the first-ever USGA player relations director. He’ll be traveling to Torrey Pines, gaining input from players which can be used for course setup and attempting to smooth the pains and frustrations of others, which finally drove him from the game himself on a full-time basis.
Gore, 47, won seven Nationwide (now Korn Ferry Tour) events, still a tour record, and won a single PGA Tour event, the 84 Lumber Classic in 2005. But that was the high-water mark of his golf career which began when he played junior golf with Tiger Woods in their native Southern California. Injuries to his shoulder and his back, which untimely led to back disc surgery December 4 of last year, caused Gore to dread the game he had once conquered and fear the pain it caused him.
“I miss competition. But I don’t miss stinking,” he said evenly in a clubhouse conference room. He’s the only person in the hundred-plus-player field carrying a dark blue USGA logo bag and a Walker Cup shirt, more evidence of his former playing days. “I love the game more than I love myself. I still dream about it. But I don’t miss wondering if the next shot was going to drop me to my knees in pain.
“The last five, six years I was in such a bad way. I could either practice or get in the gym, but I couldn’t do both.”
Now, since the operation, he said he’s like a new golfer again.
He still had an USGA exemption left, which allowed him to bypass local qualifying and advance to the second storage of sectionals in Dallas. It was a chance, even a longshot one, to return to the Open as a participant, but also spend a few days with younger players, many half his age, who would jump at the opportunity to follow the Gore career path even if they knew the pitfalls.
“Even with all of the ups and downs in my career, I would never speak ill of the game to these kids,” Gore said. “It’s the greatest thing in the world playing golf for a living and being your own boss. I can say I’ve been there.
“My life is now my family, golf and me. And golf is a distant second, because of what I have to do to compete. I lasted a lot longer than many of my comrades.”
Asked if the majority of the field, which included 13-year-old Levi Grinsberg, knew anything about his golf playing accomplishment, Gore was quick to answer.
“No, not at all, zero. Maybe their dads do. But If they know me as just the USGA guy, that’s OK, too. It’s like, ‘Hey old man, did you ever play golf?’ ”
“As a player, after having a tough day, the last thing I wanted to do was talk to anybody about it,” he said. “So, I just went over and flipped on the lights so (Justin Thomas) could keep working.” – Jason Gore
With his back in constant pain and his game not feeling much better, having unofficially retired to start an insurance agency, Gore was very receptive when the USGA called in late 2018 about being a player relations director, about bringing a human and experienced face and voice to the professionals and amateurs who will compete in the USGA championships. He began the job in March 2019 and now oversees a small staff.
“I just want them to know we’re listening and we’re here and we can work it out,” said Gore. But moving to New Jersey near the USGA Headquarters in Far Hills from his native Southern California was a bit of adjustment, especially in the winter.
“I finally figured out what a boom cycle is. When the surrounding area only gets a couple inches of snow and you get several feet. That’s certainly happened to us this year. It’s $150 to shovel our driveway, so I was doing it myself. Maybe that’s how I wound up with back surgery,” he said.
He still finds a way to straddle both sides of the ropes between the player he once was and the organizational leader he is today.
At the U.S. Open last fall at Winged Foot, Gore was on the range late one night when he saw Justin Thomas still working after a tough day on the course. Gore waited until he made eye contact, then flashed a quick thumbs up, asking if he was OK. Thomas held up both hands indicating he didn’t want to be approached by Gore or anyone else.
“I totally get that. As a player, after having a tough day, the last thing I wanted to do was talk to anybody about it,” he said. “So, I just went over and flipped on the lights so he could keep working.”
For now, Gore will keep working in golf, mainly helping others who still play for a living. His last PGA Tour event was last fall in Reno where he missed the cut. He’s planning on playing in the sectional Met Open in New York this summer and maybe Reno again in the fall if he gets another sponsor invite.
But with less than three years to go before he hits 50 and becomes eligible for the PGA Tour Champions, Gore has not totally closed the door on his playing career.
“I just bought a golf simulator for my basement and I’m not going to stop playing and practicing,” he said. “We’ll cross that bridge when we get there. But I’m going to give myself the chance.”
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