Jason Gore cant forget chance meeting with Arnold Palmer


Arnold Palmer InvitationalORLANDO, Fla. ' Walk up the back stairs of the clubhouse at Bay Hill Lodge toward the office of Arnold Palmer and it is hard to miss the many photos of two of golfs most charismatic figures ' Palmer and Tiger Woods.
Woods is a six-time winner at Bay Hill ' five times in what now is called the Arnold Palmer Invitational, once in 1991 when he captured the first of three straight U.S. Junior Amateur titles.
Too bad there are no pictures of The King and The Prince.
That would be Jason Gore, still known in some parts as the Prince of Pinehurst for his unlikely journey to the final group of the U.S. Open in 2005 before he staggered home to an 84.
Who wouldnt pay to see that photo of an 11-year-old Gore posing with a 55-year-old Palmer at Latrobe Country Club in western Pennsylvania, the course where Palmer grew up?
Gore, who opened with a 5-under 65 on Thursday for a one-shot lead in the Arnold Palmer Invitational, has family in the Pittsburgh area and went there one summer. He talked his mom into driving him to Latrobe Country Club.
Drove in like we owned the place, Gore said. I was wearing a light blue Town & Country surf design T-shirt with a big, ugly emblem on the back. And I had these shorts that had yellow and pink and blue and red. I dont know what they were 'obnoxiously terrible. Never been on a surfboard in my life, but I looked like a surfer.
They asked if Palmer was around. Turns out he was.
Before long, Palmer drove up in a cart that Gore remembers looking like a tractor. Palmer was gracious as ever, posing for a picture, signing a scoreboard and dropping a big surprise.
He said, Son, Im going to go hit balls. Would you like to come watch? Gore said. I sat right on the little slope behind the first tee and watched Mr. Palmer hit balls for about 45 minutes. And from that point on, I knew I wanted to be a professional golfer.
Gore has done fine for himself.
After the final-round debacle at Pinehurst No. 2, he rallied to win three straight times on the Nationwide Tour to earn his PGA Tour card, then he won the 84 Lumber Classic ' near Pittsburgh, of all places.
But his game has gone south, and Gore failed to finish in the top 125 last year. After he failed to make it through Q-School, he sought out swing coach Mike Abbott to overhaul his action, and the results have been slow in coming.
Gore has played seven times this year, some on sponsor exemptions, and has yet to finish in the top 20.
Thats what made Thursday so pleasant.
He hit a hybrid 2-iron onto the par-5 12th green for eagle and was having a good round until it turned much better over the final hour with three birdies in his final four holes.
Gore had a one-shot lead over Jeff Overton and Tim Herron, who won at Bay Hill in a playoff 10 years ago.
Woods had few complaints.
He played with Padraig Harrington ' they have won five of the last six majors 'along with Mark Wilson, whom Woods defeated for his second straight U.S. Junior Amateur title.
The best of the bunch ' Wilson, of course.
He played bogey-free as Woods and Harrington saw far more of the course. Woods had a 68, Harrington a 70.
Wilson learned anew not to count Woods out of any hole.
He was some 20 feet away for birdie on the opening hole, while Woods had gone into the rough, short of the green and faced a tough flop shot from 30 yards away over a bunker, with not much green between the sand and the flag.
Im looking at it going, he could start out with a double (bogey) here, Wilson said. Its an easy shot to hit short, leave in the rough and not get that one up-and-down. Then he hits a beautiful shot that leaves a ball mark and then rolls like a putt right into the middle of the hole. That was an impressive start to the day.
It got even better on the back nine when Woods ran off four straight birdies ' part of a stretch of eight consecutive one-putt greens. But there was that tee shot in the water on the par-5 sixth that led to double bogey, and a late bogey with a poor chip behind the 17th green that brought Woods back.
Even so, 68 was a solid start.
I was not hitting it well, and I had to scramble and grind it out and manage to score, Woods said. He managed just fine, taking only 24 putts in the first round after ranking 74th in putting out of 79 players at Doral two weeks ago.
Gore is lucky to be here. He has limited status on the tour, but he asked Palmer for an exemption and received one.
Last year at a corporate outing, Gore was listening to Palmer regale an audience with a story when Gore shared one of his own ' the one about the time he met Palmer, the influence he had on his life.
He thought Palmer began to get tears in his eyes.
It might have been what I wanted him to do, so I might have been making that up, Gore said with his infectious laugh. But he shook my hand, pulled me in and gave me a hug.
Gore was playing in the pro-member tournament at Seminole earlier this month when he ran into the King and thanked him for the exemption to the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
He looked at me and winked, and he said, I never forgot that story.
Its amazing that Gore didnt well up with tears.
The littlest things he does for a punk dressed in surf clothes who was trespassing on his property changes lives, Gore said. Hes got that power, and thats what makes him the King. And thats why hes the greatest person to this game.
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