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DeCock: Pinehurst memories still strong for Gore

By Luke DeCock - staff columnist
ldecock@newsobserver.com
Luke has worked for The News & Observer since 2000. He covered the Carolina Hurricanes and the NHL before becoming a sports columnist in August 2008. A native of Evanston, Ill., he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania.
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US OPEN
GERRY BROOME - 2005 AP FILE PHOTO
Jason Gore lines up his putt with caddie Lewis Puller on the second hole during third round play in the 105th US Open Championship at the Pinehurst Resort and Country Club's No. 2 course in Pinehurst, N.C. Saturday, June 18, 2005. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

RALEIGH Almost nine years had passed since Jason Gore last set foot upon Pinehurst’s No. 2 course. With his Web.com Tour itinerary taking him from Greenville, S.C., to Raleigh for this weekend’s Rex Hospital Open, Gore decided to take a detour on Monday to the site of the greatest moment of his career.

Golfers talk about how winning a tournament can change their lives. Gore went through a similar experience losing one.

A surprise contender in the 2005 U.S. Open, Gore ended up in the final group with Retief Goosen, the defending champion, only to implode with a 14-over 84. He watched Michael Campbell hold off Tiger Woods to become an only slightly less unlikely winner than Gore would have been, but not before his underdog story won over the Pinehurst fans.

That’s how his picture ended up on the wall of the clubhouse, something he saw for the first time when he and Darron Stiles played No. 2 on Monday. It’s a different kind of place that puts a 49th-place finisher’s picture on the wall, but Gore had a different kind of tournament at Pinehurst.

“It still amazes me how good people are to me,” Gore said Wednesday at TPC at Wakefield Plantation. “How many people remember the good stuff, how many people come up to me and compliment me on how I handled it. I guess I could have stormed off and been an a-hole and broken stuff, but I woke up the next day and my wife loved me – I think – and my kids loved me. It’s golf. It’s a dumb, awesome game.”

The burly 31-year-old, now 40, became the most memorable figure of what was, in retrospect, a forgettable tournament, as his self-deprecating humor appealed to fans otherwise starved of star power on the leaderboard that weekend.

Campbell vanished back into the golf ether, but Gore continues to plug away. He won on the PGA Tour later that summer and has posted four wins on what is now called the Web.com Tour, but he’ll have to go through sectional qualifying near San Francisco on June 2 just to make it back to Pinehurst.

Gore had to fight through local and sectional qualifying to get to Pinehurst in 2005, a complete unknown – at least until he posted a 3-under 67 in one of the final groups late Friday, moving into a tie for the lead amid the darkening haze. He fretted about fans not wanting a “no-name Nationwide Tour player” to win, but by the time he teed off in the final group Sunday, they were solidly behind him.

“It was a giant blur,” Gore said. “All I remember is hitting a really good drive off 1, and being scared to death how loud it was. Once I hit it and everybody saw it going down the middle, everybody erupted. Going to pick up my tee, I was like, ‘That was really loud!’ Everyone asks me how I felt. I have no idea.”

By the time he finally reached the 18th hole, the USGA was already setting up for the trophy presentation. And yet what should have been anticlimactic became perhaps the tournament’s most touching scene as the crowd greeted Gore with a standing ovation as he walked onto the green.

Even now, that memory brings him to the verge of tears, one of the worst rounds of his career leading to one of the best moments.

“It kind of chokes me up just thinking about it, how they were,” Gore said. “How everybody was. Maybe I’m them? I’m the average, everyday guy in an uphill battle with something I shouldn’t be doing. They were great to me then and they’re great to me now.”

DeCock: ldecock@newsobserver.com, @LukeDeCock, 919-829-8947
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