Wiedmer: Gilbert still shares Pinehurst's best-ever round

Wiedmer: Gilbert still shares Pinehurst's best-ever round

June 8th, 2014 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

Gibby Gilbert

Gibby Gilbert

Photo by Associated Press /Times Free Press.

Maybe the subject will come up during this week's U.S. Open golf tournament coverage and maybe it won't. Course records usually aren't a part of the conversation during Open week. Especially over a course as diabolical and venerable as Pinehurst No. 2.

But just in case you're interested, our town's Gibby Gilbert shares No. 2's single-round course record of 62 with World Golf Hall of Famers Tom Watson and Hale Irwin.

"It came during the first round of the first World Golf Hall of Fame Tournament," recalled the 73-year-old Gilbert this past week. "I played the back nine first and shot a 32. I was nine-under going into No. 7 (on the par 70 layout), but I bogeyed it."

Oh, but how close he came to making a birdie, which might have given him a 60, and the record all by himself.

"As everyone knows, the greens are all bowls turned upside down," Gilbert said of the Donald Ross-designed course. "Unless it's right on top of the hole, the ball almost always rolls off."

But on No. 7, Gilbert hit it within six feet of the cup. The ball bit. At least for a moment. He thought he was looking at another birdie, "And I'd made almost every putt all day."

But as Gilbert approached the green, the ball began to roll. And roll. And roll.

"Billy Casper was sitting near the back of the green when the ball landed," recalled Gilbert, who was playing with good friend J.C. Snead and Birmingham, Ala., native Hubert Green that day. "He swore it didn't move for at least 30 seconds."

But when it did, Gilbert wound up with a bogey. And a 62. And a share of the best round ever played at Pinehurst No. 2 with a couple of golf's greatest.

"You look back on it and every low round you've ever played could be better," he said. "That said, that was the best round I've ever played. Period."

The hot start didn't last. In a tournament format so odd it was never repeated, that year's World Golf Hall of Fame event was a bizarre 144-hole format.

"You played four rounds, cut the field in half, took two days off then played four more rounds," Gilbert said. "It was the first tournament to award $100,000 to the winner. I did pretty well the first four rounds, I think I was fourth, but not so well the last four. I think I finished 15th or 16th. Miller Barber won it. And they never staged an eight-round tournament again."

Gilbert played a lot more great rounds of golf, however. He won three times on the PGA Tour, earning more than $1 million in prize money in those days when that was still a pretty significant sum of money. He won six more times on the Champions Tour.

He now spends his spare time working at Eagle Bluff whenever his son Gibby III, the course's general manager, needs his assistance.

Yet despite his claim to fame at Pinehurst No. 2, he doesn't expect to spend much time watching this year's Open.

"It's never been one of my favorite tournaments," said Gilbert, who played in four Opens, making the cut twice. "I've never been a fan of tricking up these great courses. The one thing I always did well was hit the ball straight. On the Open courses, if I hit the ball one foot into the rough I had to play a wedge out. If you hit it 20 feet off the fairway you could play a 3-wood."

But that's not necessarily the reason he isn't pining for Pinehurst this year.

"I've always enjoyed watching Tiger," Gilbert said of the injured Woods. "But Tiger can't play worth a darn anymore. He just changes his swing too much."

Nor is he confident that Tiger will ever again be the dominant player he once was, given that the last of his 14 majors was the 2008 U.S. Open.

"Tiger won five times last year, and I didn't think he looked really good in any of them," said Gilbert. "When Tiger was at his best, he was mentally stronger than anyone out there. I'm not sure that's still the case. He's got a little age on him now. He's got a long road ahead of him to get back to being the golfer he used to be."

And Gilbert believes it's more than a long shot this week that without Tiger on the prowl anyone else in the field can threaten his 62.

Said Chattanooga's best pro golfer ever: "I'd be shocked."

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com