Rough Times

Please forgive Jason Gore if he doesn't play well this week at the Nike Tour's Boise Open.

The whole experience of this particular tournament might seem a little surreal.

Boise is where Gore was supposed to make his professional debut a year ago today.

It didn't happen.

Two days before the tournament began, Jason's father, Sheldon Gore, had a heart attack and died.

Sheldon and his wife, Kathy, were to board a plane to Boise that day so they could fulfill a dream of seeing Jason play professionally.

The timing of the stunning tragedy is almost too harsh to believe.

It came on the heels of a magical summer run by Jason.

Gore helped Pepperdine win the NCAA championship, won the California Amateur, won the California Open, won the Pacific Coast Amateur, finished second in the SCGA Amateur and earned a spot on the U.S. Walker Cup team.

It couldn't have been better for Gore, and suddenly, it couldn't have been worse.

"It was a real sensitive time for him," Kathy Gore said. "He was real close with his dad."

Jason turned to Sheldon for advice. After winning the California Amateur, Jason pondered turning professional.

Though Jason was anxious to play professionally and Sheldon just as anxious to see his son, the pro, he advised Jason to remain an amateur. He said go for the U.S. Amateur championship. There would be plenty of time to play professionally.

Plenty of time.

It took Gore a while to recover from the loss.

He postponed his professional debut about a month. He seemed to be playing well, advancing to the final stage of PGA Tour Qualifying in Florida.

He shot 65 in a practice round the day before the tournament began, then went out with Charlie Wi and Mike Walton, who were also trying to qualify. Their fathers were there, and Sheldon would have been, too.

These were guys Gore grew up playing with and against. They knew Sheldon, and talked about how they wished he was there.

Jason shot 78 in the first round and finished out of the top 100. He earned a conditional Nike Tour Card.

"I couldn't figure out what happened," Kathy said. "I didn't find out until later when somebody told me they stared talking about Shelly."

Strolling among the galleries at Jason's tournaments, Sheldon would strike up conversations with anyone who was interested. He loved to talk about Jason.

When Jason was selected to the Walker Cup team in July of 1997, Sheldon was the first to find out.

An official announcement would not be made until the next day, so Sheldon had to keep it quiet, but the pride in his eyes gave it away.

"That was his peacock moment," Kathy said. "His feathers were in full bloom."

Sheldon often traveled great distances to be with his son at tournaments. He loved to walk the fairways and was Jason's No. 1 fan.

Jason has taken strides to ensure Sheldon remains with him. He dedicated his season to Sheldon and plays golf balls imprinted with the initials "S.G."

Gore spends a lot of time on the road, driving from Nike Tour stop to Nike Tour stop.

He has put more than 20,000 miles on his car since May. He and Walton, teammates at Pepperdine, caravan. They have C.B. radios so they can talk.

He calls home to Kathy every night to report where he is and how he's doing. When he needs a break from golf, and driving, or when just wants to see his mom, he comes home to Newhall to be with Kathy.

Last time he was back, the two took Kathy's new convertible to the beach and went for a walk.

"Every time he comes back, it feels a little more like home," Kathy said.

Lately, Jason has been playing a little more like Jason.

He qualified for the U.S. Open in June and has had four top-20 finishes on the Nike Tour this year, including eighth at the Ozarks Open in Springfield, Mo., a month ago and a tie for 14th last week at the Tri-Cities Open in Richland, Wash.

"There are always times when you feel like you're alone," Kathy said. "But I think he's back. Jason is Jason again. He's matured a lot this year.

"He didn't burn 'em up right away but he's out there and I'm proud of him. Now hopefully he can get that groove back."

Gore is 74th on the Nike Tour money list with $25,522. He needs to finish in the top 15 to earn a full exemption on the PGA Tour for next season. For that to happen, it will probably take a victory in one of the last four tournaments of the season.

But if his opening-round 75 Thursday at Boise is any indication, don't expect much from him this week.

"He's in a strange town at a strange time," Kathy said.

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