Great sports stories transcend sports. They warm the heart and inspire the soul by telling the tales of athletes who have overcome adversity and reached success despite the enormous odds stacked against them. It is true that every professional athlete has overcome tremendous odds to reach the professional level and that each of their stories is noteworthy. However, the best stories in my opinion, are the ones of athletes that did not find success right away. Stories of athletes that tried and failed, tried and failed again, and yet continued to pursue their dreams. Much like aspiring and struggling actors, these athletes were forced to work common jobs and had to face the potential reality that they would go through their entire lives as “average Joes”. And yet, somehow, they did not abandon hope and continued to fight for their dream despite their bleak chances of success. For these athletes, success must taste a tad bit sweeter because they were not drafted directly out of college, or high school, and immediately signed to multi-million dollar contracts. The best sports story of 2005, in my opinion, deserves to be called a great sports story.
In recent years, there were a few great stories that have stuck with me. Kurt Warner was not drafted by the NFL, so he played in the Arena Football League before going on to become both a Super Bowl MVP and a two-time NFL MVP. John Starks was bagging groceries at a supermarket before he posterized* Michael Jordan, the greatest basketball player in the history of the game, with “The Dunk” at Madison Square Garden. Starks went on to become an NBA All-Star. Rich Beem was selling cell phones in Seattle, and had abandoned his golf career entirely, before resuming it and eventually beating Tiger Woods by one stroke to win the 2002 PGA Championship. All of these athletes’ stories are remarkable and inspirational. I believe this story is equally special.
Thirty-one year old Jason Gore was thinking about quitting. For nearly eight years, he tried to become a successful golfer on the PGA Tour. He had come close by qualifying for the PGA Tour in 2001 and 2003, but had not been successful enough to keep his tour card. So, he played professionally on some of the smaller tours, including the Nationwide Tour and the A.G. Spanos Tour. Success was not coming easily on these tours either and years of frustration were setting in.. He was driving his wife and young son around the country and living out of hotel rooms. He thought it might be time to abandon his dream. Then something positive happened.
Jason qualified for the 2005 U.S. Open at Pinehurst in North Carolina. Qualifying was good, but he still had to go up against Tiger Woods, Vijay Singh, Phil Mickelson and the best golfers in the world. Success was still a long shot at best. Remarkably, for three days, Jason played the best golf of his life on golf’s biggest stage. He had played his way into a tie for second place and a spot in the final pairing for Sunday’s decisive round. Along the way, his underdog story gained national attention and thousands of fans were rooting for the unlikely hero. In addition, Sunday was Father’s Day and Jason’s Dad had died of a heart attack in 1997, the very day that Jason was scheduled to play in his first pro golf tournament. It was beginning to look like destiny was on his side. It would be only fitting if Jason could win his first PGA Tour event on Father’s Day to honor the memory of his Dad. Unfortunately, it was not to be.
Adding to Jason’s years of frustration, he shot an 84 in that final round and finished in a tie for 49th place. The opportunity was lost and he was headed back to the Nationwide Tour. At this point, it appeared that Jason’s 15 minutes of fame were up and everything would return to normal. He had his shot in the big event and it didn’t work out. It would have been easy for him to dwell on the Sunday collapse at the U.S. Open and never recover. This likely could have been the sad ending to his dream. Fortunately, it is not.
Jason finished 10th at the next Nationwide Tour event he participated in. Encouraging, but not remarkable. Then, something extraordinary happened. Jason accomplished something that had never been done before on the Nationwide Tour. He won three consecutive golf tournaments. By winning three times, he had qualified to play on the PGA Tour through the end of 2006. This was great news, but Jason wasn’t finished yet. Shortly thereafter, Jason won his first PGA Tour event, the 2005 84 Lumber Classic, which earned him a huge payday and guaranteed his spot on the big tour through the end of 2007.
Jason Gore’s incredible run of success was almost unbelievable. After the win, Jason said that earlier this year he didn’t know if he could afford to buy formula for his child or make a house payment. Now he was being presented with a winner’s check in the amount of $792,000. The house payments and formula should be all taken care of now. Congratulations Jason Gore. You have made your dream come true and, in my opinion, are the best story in all of sports for the year 2005.
*posterized: It may not hold up in Scrabble, but it means to dunk on someone in such spectacular fashion that the moment is immortalized in the form of a poster.