After he'd finished firing nine birdies for an eight-under-par 64 on the PGA West Nicklaus Tournament Course, Jason Gore talked Friday about the joys and disappointments of his 19-year professional career.
As much as Gore wanted to celebrate going into the weekend of the CareerBuilder Challenge with a legitimate shot to win for the first time in more than a decade, trailing leader Jason Dufner by three shots, he only needed to gaze a few feet from where he was standing for the memories that keep him grounded.
Gore pointed to a spot under the stairs that lead to the PGA West clubhouse. That is where he, his wife, Megan, and their newly acquired English bulldog puppy, Brooks, retreated after his putt on the 108th hole of 2011 Qualifying School burned the lip, and he missed getting full-time tour status by one shot.
"I was pretty devastated. I was crying," Gore recalled. "That puppy was the only comfort. I looked at my wife and wondered, 'What am I going to do now?' "
For those who know this quintessential Southern California guy from Valencia — laid back, self-effacing, the dude most likely on tour to buy you a beer — it was a heartbreaking scene. Gore got famous for his Everyman role in contending into Sunday in the 2005 U.S. Open at Pinehurst, but various health issues hindered him, and consistency has never come easily.
Since 2000, Gore, 41, has played seven full seasons on the Web.com Tour and six years on the PGA Tour. Until last year's 26 starts on the big circuit — where he finished 92nd on the money list — he hadn't had more than 10 since 2009. His only victory in 253 PGA Tour appearances came in the 2005 84 Lumber Classic in Pennsylvania.
The Q School failure in 2011 was brutal, "but there were 10 other heights of feeling that way," Gore said of possibly quitting.
He was serious about going in another direction in late 2012 after only one top-10 finish on the Web.com. A Pepperdine alum, Gore applied for the opening to be men's head golf coach for the Waves and was confident he'd get it. But another alum, Michael Beard, was tabbed instead.
"I was hurt," Gore said. "After that, I wanted to prove to myself that maybe this happened for a reason. I'm still hurt over it, but it was the best thing that ever happened to me."
Gore notched a ninth-place finish on the 2014 Web.com money list to earn his way back on the big tour. Last August, he shot 62 in the third round of the Wyndham Championship but eventually lost to 51-year-old Davis Love III by one shot.
"Finished second to a guy who shouldn't have even been in the tournament," Gore joked. "He should have been playing on his own damn tour."
The near-miss, Gore said, reinvigorated him. He dropped 18 pounds this off-season and though known for being extremely hard on himself, Gore now says, "I think I beat myself up now because I love it so much. I'm not using it as, 'Well, I suck.' It's, 'How can I get better?' It's almost like a rosy disposition. I'm being the guy I usually hate."
On Saturday, Gore takes on the Stadium Course for the first time since that awful Q School finish. He's not dreading it a bit this time.
He recalled being a 12-year-old fan in person, near the 17th tee, when Lee Trevino made his ace on the island 17th hole in the 1987 Skins Game.
"This place has a lot of childhood memories," he said. "It will be fun to go out there and not be in Q School."
Dufner, the 2013 PGA Championship winner, drew the Stadium on Friday and cruised around it, notching 12 one-putt greens and eight birdies in shooting 65. His 15-under total was one better than former USC star Jamie Lovemark, who shot 65 on the Nicklaus Tournament.
Gore was in a five-way tie at 12 under with Adam Hadwin (66, La Quinta), Andrew Loupe (66, Stadium), Bill Haas (66, Nicklaus) and Anirban Lahiri (66, Nicklaus). Phil Mickelson shot a 65 at the Nicklaus Course and was in a group at 11 under.