The Way of an Eagle

by Bob Darden,
P. J. Richardson,
Robert Darden

 

 

 

Larry Gilbert

When they talk about the golf in Kentucky, sooner or later Larry Gilbert's name is going to come up. IN 1992 the modest, friendly Gilbert was inducted into the Kentucky Golf Hall of Fame. And with good reason! His accomplishments include: winning the PGA Club Professional Championship in 1981, 1982, and 1991, capturing ten Kentucky PGA Championships, three Kentucky Open Championships, and nabbing both a Tennessee Open and a Tennessee PGA title.

So it isn't all that surprising that Gilbert should do equally well as a member of the Senior Tour. His rookie season (1993) was marked by thirteen top-ten finishes, including a pair of second-place finishes. When the dust settled, he ended up seventeenth overall on the money list by earning a nifty $515,790.

Nineteen ninety-four was just more of the same-only better. Gilbert won both the Dallas Reunion Pro-Am and the Vantage (where he fired three consecutive rounds of 66), finished in the top ten twelve times, and earned a cool $8484,544-good for ninth on the final money list.

How good was Gilbert in 1994? In the Senior PGA Tour statistics, he was first in the total driving category, second in greens in regulation, fifth in all-around, and tied for sixth in eagles. If he keeps going at this rate, Gilbert's next step will be the Senior Hall of Fame!

"I had eleven brothers and sisters-we were a very large family. Unfortunately, some of them passed away very young. I wasn't very close to Christianity back then. That happened to me quite a bit later in life.

I was struggling as a club professional, running into various problems, including the man I was working for-but really, most of my problems were with myself. Along the way I kept meeting and associating with very devout Christians. It finally kind of dawned on me one day that maybe the Lord was trying to tell me something. I became very interested.

There was a man named Will Criswell in Kentucky who had a church there and who was also a very good golfer. He'd done some prison time over some things he'd done. But while he was in prison, he found the Lord. He's now an ordained minister. It's an amazing story of how his wife and children stuck with him through the whole ordeal. He told me that if the Lord could use him this way, He could do the same thing with me. And that's what happened.

Well, actually, it was a series of things that happened. About the same time, I wasn't happy in my job as a club professional. I felt an awful lot of pressure from the membership. It was time for me to leave and give my career a shot. I did a lot of soul-searching and, late, a lot of praying, because it was definitely a big gamble for me. I invested my life savings to come out here and play this Tour.

Do your Christian beliefs have an impact on you as a professional golfer?
Well, I really don't know if those beliefs help certain putts go in the hole or help certain shots bounce out of a bunker or whatever, but in my mind it's the pace and serenity that my faith gives me that's so important. You feel like things are going to go your way.

The Christians on the Tour all know each other. The thing of it is, most of the people out here are Christians, although maybe some are a little closer than others.

But that means we've got to be aware of what we're doing at all times. For instance, I see a lot of people on the golf course who take things out on their caddie. That's not me. When it come to hitting a golf ball, I'm the last person to hit it. I'm also the last one who decides which club it is going to be. And if I make a wrong decision, or my caddie and I together make a wrong decision, it is my fault-not his.

So there is an extreme battle among egos out here-and I think that's probably natural for that to happen. I have had people kid me now that I've won a couple of tournaments and been somewhat "successful." They come up to me an say, "I guess you'll change now, just like all of the rest of the jerks, and be a big star." I hope Larry Gilbert never changes. I tell them, "If you ever see me change and become one of those jerks, I'd like for you to tell me about it." I'm very sincere when I say that. I just want to be good ol' Larry Gilbert.

And one thing that helps is the Tour Bible study.

Memorable Moment
It's hard to pick out one point that is the highlight. I do remember that in 1993, my rookie year, I was tied for the lead at Sleepy Hollow, New York, in the NYNEX Commemorative Championship. I had a good chance to win going into the last round. I was tied for the lead with Bob Charles and Chi Chi Rodriquez.

It was looking like I was going to lose the tournament when, all of a sudden, on the back nine, I got hot. I birdied the thirteenth, fifteenth, and sixteenth and got myself back into a tie for the lead before I bogeyed the seventeenth. But the guy I was tied with also bogeyed seventeenth. Then he made about a thirty-footer on the eighteenth.

And on that day, by son Chris was caddying for me. And to come walking up the eighteenth, with you son carrying you bag, knowing that you've got a shot at winning the golf tournament-now that's quite a thrill. I finished second, by the way.

I've got so much that I have to be thankful for. After my wife and I had been married for several years, they told us we couldn't have children. And to see our boy, Chris, who was born in 1973, grow to be a healthy, happy young man, that's got to be another highlight of my life.

You can win a lot of golf tournaments and win a lot of trophies and money, but that's not as good as seeing your children grow up.

I just wake up every morning and pinch myself to make sure that this whole thing's not a dream.

Tip

One thing that I believe is the key to the whole golf swing is good rhythm. I see people all the time with a fundamentally good golf swing, but who don't have good rhythm and are therefore not very good ball strikers. But yet you'll find some people who don't have good, sound swings, but they've got good rhythm and they are good ball strikers. I think rhythm is the key to the whole game of golf.

I'll tell you what I do-and I've done this for thirty-something years, I'd guess, almost ever since I started playing the game. I listen to one of those classic singers: Barbara Streisand, Barry Manilow, Sammy Davis Jr., even John Denver, singing soft and soothing music. I'll listen to that on the way to the golf course. And I'll find a song that just kind of sticks with me. I'll keep that song in my mind all day long; I'll just hum it to myself. And that helps me maintain rhythm.

So that's my suggestion: find a tune and hold on to it over the whole course as a way of improving your rhythm.

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