Gilder came away with a new resolve to get it all back. His 22nd-place finish at the Inland Empire Open was his Nike tour debut, at age 45. "I'm not too proud to come out here," he says. "Some guys think they're too good for this tour, but I don't. Shoot, I'd dig ditches to support my family."
It was with that kind of humility that Gilder wrote to the tournament directors of nearly all the PGA Tour events, asking for a sponsor's exemption, an alternate's last resort. So far he has been rewarded with three—the Nortel Open (where he missed the cut), Bob Hope (71st) and Phoenix (missed the cut again). Gilder appreciates these invites, but there also have been slights. At last week's Doral-Ryder Open in Miami he was passed over in favor of Ray Floyd's son Robert, a sophomore in college, and Gary Nicklaus, a mediocre player on the Asian mini-tour. "The process is so political," Gilder says. "I mean, if Jack Nicklaus wants to play with his son, are they gonna take Bob Gilder and say no to Jack Nicklaus?"
Unfortunately, it's only going to get harder from here. The first two months of the season provide an alternate with his best chance of getting into PGA Tour events, because most of golf's glamour-pusses take a siesta during the West Coast swing, known to them as the Rest Coast. With the eastward ho of the Tour, which began last week in Miami, the big-name slackers start to bump the wannabes out of tournament fields.
Thus the Nike tour will serve as the primary business address for the alternates over the next couple of months. Five tournaments on the PGA Tour between now and mid-June are limited-field events, and the others will swell with exempt players tuning up for the Masters and the U.S. Open. During the dog days of summer, the fields will thin out and it will be a little easier to sneak into events. But there are bills to be paid in the meantime. The purse at the Inland Empire Open was $200,000 (Jim Estes pocketed $36,000 with his victory), and, says Paul Stankowski (133rd), "The money here's the same color as what they're givin' out at Doral."
Yes, but they gave out a heck of a lot more—$1.8 million, including $324,000 to the winner—at Doral.
To be an alternate is to be a professional optimist, and it is dreams of monster paydays that keep alternates hanging around the Tour by-their fingernails. Listen to Stankowski. "If I'm settled in at a Nike event, there's no way I would leave for a Tour event after Monday. The dashing back and forth will drive you nuts." A few moments later: "Tuesday morning, maybe, but it would have to be an exceptional situation." A few moments later: "Well, you know, it all depends. If one of the top tournaments called me on Wednesday, and I could get there, yeah, I'd go for it.
"Man, I'd hitchhike there if I had to."