LA QUINTA, Calif. – The PGA Tour Q-School is perhaps the most pressure-packed golf tournament known to man. Sadly, it also may be the least-attended professional golf event on earth.
Galleries can be summarized in two words: family, friends.
Jason Gore, playing the Pete Dye Stadium Course at PGA West, drew one of the biggest galleries for Saturday’s fourth round of the Q-School: 11 spectators on the back nine.
Gore hit four balls into the water, salvaged a 1-over 73, and said, “I feel like I just went 15 rounds with (Mike) Tyson. This golf course was not meant to be played in 30 mile-per-hour winds. Everywhere you look, there’s some kind of water you have to carry.”
He wasn’t angry or upset, and he actually smiled as he said it. Gore fans are accustomed to that world-class smile. The accompanying world-class golf game never quite materialized, but he did win one PGA Tour event and seven Nationwide Tour tournaments.
More than that, Gore has remained one of the most popular players in golf since he challenged for the 2005 U.S. Open title, being paired with Retief Goosen in the final twosome on the final day.
Michael Campbell won that day, but Gore became etched into the world golf consciousness as a big, overstuffed, extra friendly teddy bear of a man.
Gore is now 37, and his life has taken a dramatic turn in the past six months.
For starters, has lost 40 pounds. He is now a 200-pound reasonably skinny teddy bear, if you will.
“My doctor told me I was a borderline diabetic,” Gore said. “I told him, ‘Not for long.’ I was determined to change that. It was something I could control.
“My father (Sheldon Gore) died of a heart attack at 54. He was a diabetic. I don’t want to die at 54. That’s just four years into the senior tour.
“The big thing for me, though, is that I have a new appreciation of my home life – being a husband, a father. I love being home, and I want to enjoy it as long as I can.”
Gore the homebody is a new development. His left shoulder was killing him when he swung a golf club, so he consented to surgery in July.
“Somebody my size isn’t meant for an MRI tube,” he said, jokingly, “so they didn’t really know what they would find until they went in there. What they found was bone spurs, ripping my tendon every time I swung the club.”
He went home to Valencia, Calif., for four months, concentrating on rest and rehabilitation. In the process, he rediscovered his family.
“My wife (Megan) and I had some marriage issues,” Gore said straightforwardly. “We solved them, and I am very, very happy. I got to spend four months with our two kids (7-year-old Jaxson and 2-year-old Olivia), and it was fantastic. For the first time in my life, I got to be a dad. Suddenly I felt like my life was better than ever before.”
Gore worked on his putting, but didn’t hit full shots. When he was given permission to play again, he was 40 pounds lighter and had to adapt to a different swing.
“My ballstriking has been shaky,” he conceded, “but it’s coming around. I hit the ball great today. I have a lot of room now that i didn’t used to have. I used to just swing and kind of hit it with my gut and move out of the way. Now I have space to swing.”
That being said, Gore dropped all assertions about his future: “I don’t know what I’m going to do. I have two more days here, and I’m going to play my heart out (he is tied for 74th, with the top 25 and ties earning PGA Tour cards).
“This might be it for me. I have to sit down and think about it. As we sit here, I’m kind of down-and-out about golf. What I know for sure is that I love being home, I love being a husband, I love being a dad.
“When I was home, I didn’t really miss playing. I love being a pro, I love being out there among the guys, I love competing. But I didn’t miss the traveling and the hectic lifestyle. So I don’t know.”
To listen to a man talk so openly and so emotionally is a moving experience.
Surely there is a lesson here: As engrossing as golf might be, there are more substantial elements in our lives that deserve first consideration.
Viewed as part of our overall humanity, golf can be entertaining and fun. But golf is a game, and no game can match up with the pursuit that is real life.