'Surely he'll be a non-factor tomorrow,' is what was on the minds of the so-called experts and doubting fans as Jason held a share of the 36-hole lead at Pinehurst #2. But on Saturday he didn't disappear. Not by a long shot. Rather, he stole the show, and in the process, he stole the hearts of millions of viewers around the world.
With glory seemingly at his finger tips and the dreams of a lifetime on the verge of coming true, Jason saw the fairytale vanish right before his eyes.
Two weeks later, Jason wasn't making arrangements to travel to Scotland in hopes of winning the other Open, nor was he taping commercials for Nike. Instead, Jason Gore found himself right back where he started the week before the Open. He was preparing for his next Nationwide Tour event. He was the same ol' good guy, joking with his friends, smiling at every volunteer, engaging the suddenly curious media, and setting about his work. Only this time, Jason was a bit different.
Surely it would have been understandable if he tried to cash in on his newfound 15 minutes. After all, he was barely in the top 70 on the Nationwide Tour money list and nobody would blame him if he chased those prospective sponsor's-exemptions on the PGA Tour. But Jason knew his best route to the PGA Tour was the Nationwide Tour, and he had plenty of work ahead of him if he wanted to get there in 2006. And now, he had the all-too-evasive confidence in his ability that can't be faked.
Gore resumed his Nationwide Tour campaign with a 10th place finish at the Lake Erie Charity Classic and a jump to 57th on the money list. It was his best finish of the year, but not nearly good enough to offer any guarantees for the future. However, everything changed the following week.
Gore played four rounds at the National Mining Association Pete Dye Classic exactly as he had played the first three at #2. And in doing so, he notched his fourth career victory on the Nationwide Tour. He vaulted to No. 7 on the money list and looked like a lock to finish the year in the top-20. He still needed about $50,000, but with 16 tournaments remaining on the schedule, that shouldn't be a problem.
His last victory on the Nationwide Tour was in 2002, and it came the week following his next to last victory. The thought of winning back to back again was certainly on his mind as he packed his trophy in the back of his SUV en-route to the next stop on the Nationwide Tour.
The end of Jason's streak appeared over halfway through the Scholarship America Showdown. He was 9 shots back of the lead, and almost certainly fatigued both physically and emotionally. But in Jason's own words, 'Every tournament is important and the most important one to me is the one I'm playing in.' Opportunity was knocking.
He shot 64 under tough conditions on Saturday, and followed it up with 67 on Sunday. And just like that, Jason Gore turned a 9 shot deficit into a 4 shot victory. His second in a row for the second time in his career.
Jason now sits in third on the money list with more than enough to graduate to the PGA Tour if he doesn't earn another dollar. He's also just one win away from the Battlefield Promotion and instant status on the PGA Tour. And when asked what his playing plans are now, Jason replied with a confused look that seemed to say that it's all happened too quickly to comprehend. 'I'm not sure. Tonight my wife and son are flying home and I'm supposed to meet them there after I drop off my car in Omaha. Two weeks off sounds good right now.'
Jason's life has changed permanently in about the time it takes Lance Armstrong to win a race. It's been a wild ride, and like Lance, Jason has dominated the competition. But there is no final stage of the race for Jason. As a matter of fact, the immediate destination is uncertain.
The glamour that was within his grasp for a few fleeting moments at the U.S. Open is now back within reach. But that same ol' loveable big guy that endeared himself to us all a month ago won't change one iota.
After sealing the deal this past Sunday in Wisconsin, Jason kissed his wife and son goodbye at the gas station. Megan and Jaxon on their way to the airport, and Jason driving into the night -- presumably to Omaha. And when he then pulled up behind me at the Taco Bell drive thru on his last stop before the lonely drive, I turned to wave goodbye. Through those darkly tinted Southern California style windows I could only make out his silhouette. That was until I saw that one thing golf fans worldwide have fallen in love with--his ear-to-ear pearly whites.
Not that he ever needed them, but Jason Gore now has many reasons to smile. He may not have known where he'd spend the night, but his destination is certain. The self esteem that led him to feel as though he'd let down his family at Pinehurst has been redeemed. And the talent that first set him on his quest to chase a dream, well, let's just say that his future is even brighter than the smile that lights up an empty car.
Email your thoughts to Jerry Foltz