John McGrath

John McGrath: Corvallis’ Gilder excited to be back at Boeing Classic

Champions Tour golfer Bob Gilder had just concluded his Tuesday practice round in preparation for the Boeing Classic this week at TPC Snoqualmie Ridge when he relaxed on a golf-cart seat and marveled at the view.

“That’s the coolest mountain,” Gilder said of Mount Si., the 4,167-foot peak that dominates the Cascade foothills. “It’s right there in front of you. If you don’t like this place, you don’t like the outdoors.”

Given Gilder’s challenge of adjusting his game to the golf course a few miles to the west, the appropriately named landmark should be spelled Mount Sigh.

“I’m not the most comfortable on this golf course,” he said. “I’m not long, and it’s definitely an advantage here if you’re long. If I have to hit a club or a club-and-a-half more than the other guys to those greens, the ball doesn’t stop for me. It doesn’t stop for anybody hitting a longer club onto some of those par 3s.”

And yet Gilder, along with the likes of Tom Kite and Tom Purtzer, remains among those participants in the 2014 field who’ve competed in every Boeing Classic since the tournament’s 2005 inception.

No matter that Gilder understands his most durable talent (accuracy off the tee) cannot compensate for the fact he’s a relatively short hitter on a layout better suited for monster mashers. No matter that he loves TPC Snoqualmie Ridge quite more than it loves him.

A native Oregonian who spends his brief offseasons from golf in Corvallis, Gilder never has missed a chance to play in the Boeing Classic.

“This is the Northwest, and I love to play in the Northwest,” he said. “I have people coming up from Oregon to watch me — that’s pretty neat. It’s the only chance they get, unless they travel a lot.

“I just ran into a guy who played at the Salem Golf Club with me as a junior in high school. My insurance salesman is coming up from Corvallis, and part of my family is, too. My expectations here are to just let it happen.”

Before he joined the Champions Tour in 2001, Gilder was a six-time winner on the PGA Tour. His best season, in 1982, coincided with the swing of a lifetime: a 251-yard shot off a 3-wood — an authentic 3-wood, a club never used these days, and seen only in antique roadshows — that landed on the green and rolled into the hole for a double eagle at the Westchester Classic.

Gilder has won 10 times on the 50-and-over circuit, but only once since 2006. His signature trait might be a Ripkenesque reliability: 68 consecutive appearances (and counting) in Champions Tour majors.

“I’m starting to pick things up a little bit,” he said. “I’ve been struggling the last couple years, but I’ve put in a lot of hard work and fixed some things that are turning it around. I’m not quite there yet, I’m doing OK, keeping scores around par and under par.”

A recent 7-under-par score of 63, during the final round of the Constellation Senior Players Championship in Pittsburgh, enabled the 63-year old Gilder to shoot his age for the first time. The only other two Championship Tour players to shoot their age this season?

Hale Irwin and Tom Watson.

“At 63,” said Gilder, “I’m coming to that time now when shooting my age is fairly possible. The guys I was playing with were really good about it and happy for me. It was a pretty neat deal.”

If Tuesday afternoon provided any indication, Gilder will be happy to turn in scores this weekend approximating the age of course designer Jack Nicklaus, who’s 74.

Paired with practice partner Jim Gallagher, Gilder could only, uh, sigh when he watched Gallagher — taller, heavier and 13 years younger — blast a tee shot at No. 18.

“He flew it over the bunkers off a drive,” Gilder said. “I can’t even get to the bunker. When a guy hits it 40 or 50 yards by you, what an advantage that is.”

Gilder’s only advantage will be golfing at home, or as close to home the Champions Tour gets for an Oregon resident.

“It’s a beautiful spot,” he said. “The air is clean. This is very relaxing for me, definitely. Just look at it.”

Gilder won’t move any mountains this weekend, but for the 10th time in 10 summers, he’ll be delighted to appreciate one.