CORDOVA, Tenn. – Everybody loves a good comeback story, right? Well, they don’t come any bigger than 35-year-old David Gossett earning a spot in the 2014 U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2.
Gossett was a can’t-miss kid who won the 1999 U.S. Amateur, played on the Walker Cup team and starred at the University of Texas. He won his first PGA Tour event, at the John Deere Classic. Stop me if any of that sounds familiar. Change out the U.S. Junior Amateur for the Amateur and you’ve basically got the resume of Jordan Spieth, the latest Longhorns phenom. Except something went horribly wrong with the trajectory of Gossett’s career.
“In an effort to get better, I got worse,” Gossett said. “I changed coaches, and my wires got crossed. Inevitably I lost confidence. My attention got diverted from scoring inside 150 (yards) to swing mechanics. It was just a downward spiral.”
Gossett, who lost full status on the PGA Tour in 2004, tries not to dwell on the past because he knows there’s a lot of scar tissue. So let me pick at the scab. I was there when Gossett withdrew from the 2010 FedEx St. Jude Classic after shooting 47 for nine holes at TPC Southwind, citing “a hamstring injury and terrible golf.” There was more. He was running out of balls after spraying several tee shots out of bounds.
“I’m going back to the drawing board to see what I need to do to take my game to a tournament setting, not just on a practice tee or around town,” Gossett said at the time.
For the past five years, Gossett has worked with instructor Chuck Cook, who has identified some of the problems that have held Gossett back from achieving his full potential. “We cleared the noise out my head,” Gossett said.
It’s been baby steps. He made 11 starts on the Web.com Tour last season but flamed out of Tour Q-School. He has earned $7,154.29 in six events this season on the Adams Golf Pro Tour Series, competing against a bunch of young wannabes.
“I’m the old guy out there,” Gossett said.
But it’s a place to compete and play the game he still loves even if it didn’t always love him back. He estimated he’s 54th alternate for the FedEx St. Jude Classic and 99th to get into the Web.com’s Cleveland Classic. So far, he is a combined 0-for-9 in Monday qualifying. Make it 1-for-10 if you count the Open.
“How about my man, David Gossett,” Tour veteran Joe Ogilvie said after he, too, qualified for Pinehurst. “I’m happier for him that I am for me.”
Ogilvie and Gossett live in Austin, Texas, and Ogilvie has watched Gossett re-discover his game. About six months ago they played together at Spanish Oaks Golf Club, Ogilvie recalled. Gossett had 270 yards to the green and ripped driver onto the green, the type of shot that required skill and a certain amount of confidence.
“Most beautiful driver off the deck I’ve ever seen,” Ogilvie said.
All he needed was a stage to show his game was ready for a tournament setting. On the Friday before the 36-hole sectional qualifier, Gossett got a call that he was in. He had lost in a playoff at local qualifying but outlasted amateur Beau Hossler, the teen sensation from the 2012 Open, in four extra holes to be the first alternate. Gossett slept the night before the qualifier in his old bed at his parents’ house in nearby Germantown, and had dinner with his sister and brother-in-law.
Two holes into his opening round on the North Course, Gossett backhanded a short putt and missed. There would be no downward spiral this time. He stuck a 6-iron to 15 feet on his third hole, the par-3 12th, made the birdie putt and raced to a 5-under 66.
“He just didn’t do anything stupid,” said Gossett’s caddie Mason Rudolph, the 16-year-old grandson of the late Tour winner from Tennessee with the same name.
I witnessed Gossett rescue par from lurking disaster on at least three occasions, and that made all the difference. Gossett played his last 14 holes on the tougher South track in 4 under and shot 69. His 36-hole total of 135 was tied for third and earned him his first appearance at the U.S. Open since 2000, when as reigning U.S. Amateur champ he was supposed to play with Payne Stewart, the reigning U.S. Open winner from Pinehurst who was killed in an airplane accident in the preceding autumn.
As a steady stream of well-wishers congratulated Gossett, an old friend asked him what he was doing these days. “Still chasing my dream,” Gossett said.
He could’ve just as easily have said writing the next chapter in his comeback story. Onward to Pinehurst!