It was a show of affection and remembrance for a dear and departed friend.
So when the chance presented itself, almost as if it had been preordained, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity. Something deep and profound was stirring within me. I felt almost compelled to do so, as if his smiling face was nodding his approval, as if his reassuring hand was patting my shoulder. “Go for it, Jimmy,” I swear I could hear him say in that melodious voice of his. “It’ll mean something special if you do.”
How could I not be moved to honor such a request. At that moment, it was as if he had come to life again, as if his presence had returned, completely unencumbered. That almost five months since his passing, it was like we were truly hanging out again. Once more a pair of buddies about to share a meaningful memory.
As a sportswriter, I’m hesitant to ask for autographs or pictures when covering an event. I worry about the perception of professionalism, objectivity and decorum. I must confess I’ve done it in the past, but only in the rarest of circumstances and in those cases, generally at the behest of someone else.
But a circmstance presented itself that would trump anything I’d ever encountered. No matter what, in this instance, I couldn’t allow my idea of propriety to stand in the way. Something much too important, much too personal was at stake. Any rules I normally operated by were no longer in play. This was poignantly different.
I recently found myself in Newport Beach, CA. on a sunplashed Friday afternoon covering the Toshiba Classic, a Champions Tour event. Since I’d been given some latitude about what I could write about, I decided beforehand to hone in on Ben Crenshaw, a charismatic and longtime marquee name in golf. My intent was to follow Crenshaw for an entire round and get a general sense of the man, his popularity and the state of his game.
On this day, Crenshaw’s playing partners happened to be the accomplished Gil Morgan and the lesser known but nonetheless solid veteran Bob Gilder. While Gilder may not be a familiar name to the casual or younger fan, I was well aware of him. Gilder had experienced a fair amount of success on the PGA Tour, winning six times, before capturing 10 titles on the Senior/Champions circuit. By most measures, Gilder has fashioned an admirable career for himself.
But I knew of Gilder for another more telling and personal reason other than his record. He happened to be a favorite of one of my most cherished and beloved friends, John “the Greek” Stavros. “Greek” closely followed Gilder’s exploits throughout the years and just dug the golfer’s style, demeanor, personality and game.
To John, Gilder had an appealing kind of face, pleasant, welcoming and with a sort of everyman’s quality to it. Gilder was also the kind of competitor John revered the most, workmanlike, no-frills, steady and respectful. “Greek”, who knew plenty about fundamentals, loved Gilder’s set-up and the strong lower base he established with his legs. With such a foundation, Gilder could create excellent leverage, thereby hitting boring and pin-seeking shots that “Greek” marveled at. In every-way, “Greek” was a Gilder fan.
John also gave Gilder a catchy moniker, whom he called “Hot Child” in honor of a hit 1970s song entitled “Hot Child in the City” that was sung by an artist with the same surname of Gilder (Nick). If Gilder got it going on the links, “Greek” would invariably chime in, “Oh yeah, ‘Hot Child’ is on a roll.”
When Crenshaw, Morgan and Gilder completed their rounds, they exited to a nearby tent to sign their scorecards. Meanwhile, I hopped onto an adjacent grandstand, sat down and started going over my notes while formulating my storyline about Crenshaw.
Shortly thereafter, I looked over my shoulder and noticed Gilder emerging from the tent, beginning to make his way along a cart path directly behind me. His caddy was trailing him but no one else was anywhere near. Then, it struck me. Maybe it was “Greek” nudging me, I can’t be sure. But I thought about what it would have meant to John to have Gilder’s autograph. “Do it Jimmy,” that voice speaking to me again. “It’s right there, man.”
I hesitated momentarily, still thinking about protocol, but I quickly dismissed that concern. I simply had to do this for John, and in a way I couldn’t quite put my finger on, I had to do it for myself. I hurriedly descended some steps, took a sharp left and headed towards a spot where I could intersect Gilder. I arrived there moments before he did, watching him slowly approach. His head was focused on the ground but when I spoke, he immediately glanced up. “Mr. Gilder,” I began, ” I’ve got a buddy who’s a big fan of yours. Any chance you could sign this ticket for him?”
I made no mention that I was a writer or that the friend I spoke of had passed on. Somehow I didn’t feel obligated to. I wondered if any of that really mattered?
Gilder eased to a halt and kindly agreed to do so. I requested that he make it out to “Stavvy,” another name that John’s intimates had for him. Gilder took the ticket, placed it gently on his right thigh and carefully wrote on it. It was a straightforward and basic autograph but to me it was a thing of beauty. It made my eyes tear over when I looked at it. It simply read, “To ‘Stavvy,’ Bob Gilder.”
“Thanks Mr. Gilder,” I said. “Was glad to, you’re welcome,” he replied while walking away.
“I got it “Greek”,” I whispered under my breath. “I got it.”
“You’re the man,” I’m certain I heard back, that hearty laugh once again filling my ears.
That ticket now occupies a very visible and prominent place on the desk from which I write. I plan to keep it there for awhile. To serve as a reminder of John’s great spirit, his faithful friendship and the fact that in so many ways, he’s still here with me.
Though the autograph resides in my possession, it won’t ever be mine. It is and will forever be John’s. I’m just its custodian. And when I look at it, I can see the image of “the Greek” beaming brightly, knowing that Gilder’s signature had touched us both.
Source: pgatour.com/champions/Players/Bob Gilder-Career.