One vacation enough for golf veteran

Rejuvenated Gilder hopes body holds up for rest of season
by: COURTESY OF PGA TOUR Bob Gilder, 60-year-old Champions Tour competitor from Corvallis, is back to all-business after taking a rare vacation from the tournament grind. “Heck, I get 27 weeks a year off,” he explains.

Bob Gilder enjoyed three of the best weeks of his life last month.

First, there was the Corvallis native's victory in the Principal Charity Classic at Des Moines, Iowa, June 3-5, his 10th on the Champions Tour but his first since 2006.

Then Gilder, 60, and wife Peggy took off on a two-week vacation trip to Europe - their first abroad since Gilder turned professional nearly four decades ago.

'We always go to Hawaii in January,' says Gilder, who continues to make his home in Corvallis, 'but that's mostly for me to practice on my game.'

The trip to Germany, Switzerland and Italy caused Gilder to miss the Greater Hickory Classic at Conover, N.C., ending his streak of 178 straight tournaments played. It left him 100 short of Dana Quigley's Champions Tour record of 278. Did that bother Gilder?

'Absolutely not,' he says. 'I don't know why everybody was making the big deal about me becoming the next iron man to Dana. When he was doing it (from 1996-2005), we had 38 tournaments a year. Now, we have 24 or 25. Man, to break his record now, I'd have to play until I'm dead.'

Well, actually, just another four years. But Gilder hadn't really intended to end his streak. With a two-week gap in tournaments on the original Champions schedule for 2011, the Gilders planned their European vacation last fall. A month later, the tour added the Hickory event.

'We weren't going to change our vacation at that point,' Gilder says. 'But I don't plan to miss anymore, as long as I stay healthy. I've just always enjoyed playing. Heck, I get 27 weeks a year off.'

The Gilders flew into Amsterdam and drove to Stuttgart, spending an afternoon going through the museum at the Porsche automotive factory. Then drove on to Lake Lugano in Switzerland, then proceeded to Italy, where they spent the bulk of the vacation at a villa in Tuscany.

'What a beautiful place,' Gilder says. 'It's just gorgeous, and the weather was absolutely beautiful. We had a wonderful time.'

It was the perfect way to celebrate Gilder's championship in Iowa, which came out of the blue.

After turning 50 in 2001, Gilder ranked eighth on the money list as a rookie and then finished second in 2002 with nearly $2.4 million in earnings. He was a fixture on the tour the next six years, finishing among the top 30 from 2003-08, before falling to 53rd in 2009 and 38th in 2010.

Gilder had finished no higher than 28th in his first eight events of 2011 going into the Principal Charity Classic.

'I'd been hitting the ball well, but not scoring well,' he says. 'What I'd been working on was coming together. I didn't switch my putting grip, but I went from a left-handed hit to a right-handed hit. I'd been working on getting my eyes over the ball, so I was seeing my line better.

'I hadn't been giving myself a lot of chances the last 2 1/2 years. After some adjustments, I'm hitting my approach shots a lot closer (to the pin) now.'

Gilder began the final round at Des Moines in contention, but when Mark Brooks took a four-shot lead with four holes to play, 'I honestly didn't even think about winning,' Gilder says. 'That's kind of hard to make up.'

Brooks, playing in the final group with Gilder, made a long bogey putt on No. 17 and was still ahead by a stroke going into the par-4 18th hole. Brooks' approach on 18 was closer than Gilder's, and Brooks needed only to two-putt from 25 feet to win.

'And I was showing him the line,' Gilder says. 'It didn't dawn on me that he might 3-putt.'

But Gilder drained a 30-foot downhill birdie putt to complete his final round in 65.

'I read the putt and hit it and, six feet from the hole, I thought, 'This looks pretty good,' ' Gilder says. 'Then at three feet, it was, 'This is going in.' And boom!'

He watched as Brooks rolled his putt five feet by the hole, then missed the comebacker.

As he accepted the trophy and $258,750 first-place check, Gilder's eyes welled up with tears.

'It was just so unexpected,' Gilder says. 'I was thinking playoff, and he does that. And all of a sudden, it hit me.

'It was very emotional for me. It had been awhile since I'd won, and I'd been working so hard on things. Because I wasn't scoring very well, I wasn't seeing the fruits of my labor.'

Did he have doubts that he might not win again?

'Based on the way I had been playing the last 2 1/2 years, yeah,' says Gilder, who has made more than $10.5 million in a decade on the Champions Tour after earning more than $3 million on the PGA circuit. 'I wasn't making putts. I wasn't 3-putting very much, but I wasn't making many putts. Now I've started to hit it better, given myself more chances to make a few more birdies.'

With Gilder and 61-year-old Tom Watson's win at the Senior PGA Championship the week before, it was the first time in history players 60-and-over have won back-to-back events. It's just the 20th time in 946 official events that a 60-year-old has won on the Champions Tour.

During his European vacation, Gilder gave his clubs to his caddy and said, 'I'll see you in two weeks.' It's the first time he has ever not even hit balls at a point during a season.

Gilder finished tied for 52nd and tied for 47th in his first two tournaments back, but was tied for 21st in the Nature Valley First Tee Open at Pebble Beach, Calif., last week, earning $19,200 to push his 2011 total to $318,693. He ranks 30th on the Champions money list with 11 tournaments yet to play.

Health may be Gilder's biggest issue. His left knee has been bothering him this year, and an orthopedic specialist believes the knee may have a meniscus tear. Gilder received a cortisone shot in it prior to the Pebble Beach event, 'and it feels fine right now,' he says. 'But it's probably something I need to get fixed.'

Gilder hopes to postpone surgery until the end of the 2011 season, in part because he believes he can win again.

'I definitely think so,' he says. 'I think I can. I think I can be a contender in every event now, the way I'm hitting it.'

Gilder knows he has only a few more seasons to play on the Champions Tour, but the title in Iowa - his 10th on the senior circuit - 'has given me a little bit of a vigor, more reason to play,' he says. 'I'm looking forward to the rest of the year.'