I shot 92 on the PGA Tour last week. Here’s why it won’t keep me down

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Robert Gamez has likely played his last competitive round at Bay Hill.

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If you know what happened in my second round at Bay Hill last week, you probably were feeling sorry for me. You may have even felt pity.

Here I was, a longtime professional golfer, shooting a 20-over 92 — a 92! — in the second round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational, a tournament I won in 1990. How else could I feel but embarrassed, humiliated, ready to jump in the lake on 18 and never be heard from again?

Sorry to disappoint you but that wasn’t how I was feeling. Quite the opposite, actually. I was having a good time. Despite everything.

Yes, I hit some bad shots. OK, a lot of bad shots. In fact, it was the worst round I have ever played in competition and that goes back to my junior-golf days.

But I was playing the game I loved at my favorite golf course, with my wife, Denise, and plenty of friends in the gallery. The weather was sunny, with just a slight breeze. How could I not be smiling?

Especially given the fact that, if things had gone a little differently in 2014, I wouldn’t have made it this far. I underwent quadruple-bypass heart surgery which, as you can imagine, is a heck of a lot worse than quadruple-bogeys. Add on the problems I’ve had with my back and shoulder — I won’t bore you with the details — and I’m lucky to be playing golf anywhere, let alone on a championship course such as Bay Hill. 

Gamez, in 2018, has battled health issues in recent years.

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Even as one dispiriting shot lead to another last week, I told myself I was not going to give up. I could have shot one hundred and ninety-two and I still would have hit every shot — and tried my best on every shot.

Which was exactly what I did. I just wasn’t able to execute. This was only my second tournament since last year’s event at Bay Hill. The other was the Cologuard Classic a few weeks earlier in Tucson, on the PGA Tour Champions, where I finished third to last.

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I am sad about one thing, though: I’ll likely never get another chance to play Bay Hill in tournament competition.

You see, the Tour has a new rule that states in order for players to compete in a specific event — including past champions — they must maintain a scoring average no worse than three strokes higher than the field’s scoring average for the year. I found out in an email I received from the Tour on Tuesday, moments before I was to play a practice round, that this rule would apply to next year’s tournament.

Which meant, in all likelihood, I was about to play in my last event at Bay Hill after 32 consecutive starts there. Talk about putting the pressure on.

I proceeded to shoot 79 on the first day, which included a 35-foot birdie putt on 18. Then came the 92. I missed the cut by a mile and declined to sign my scorecard. Why? Easy. I didn’t want the Tour to use that score against me. Yes, my first-round 79 will put me way over the scoring-average limit to earn an invitation back to Bay Hill in 2022, but I didn’t want my average to be any higher than that. I guess it was a protest of sorts, a futile attempt to keep my invite to a tournament I deeply love.

Bay Hill, where I am a member, means the world to me, and not just because I won there. It’s because of how I won there, by holing that memorable 176-yard 7-iron on the final hole for an eagle to beat Greg Norman and Larry Mize. I was 21 years old and a rookie at the time. It was the second of my three Tour victories. Two came in 1990, the other in 2005.

Gamez after his miracle hole-out at Bay Hill in 1990.

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I don’t think much about the miracle shot during tournament week, but when I’m with friends, it comes up quite a bit. I don’t mind. I’m honored to be part of the history of a tournament that has Mr. Palmer’s name attached.

Look, I have no illusions. I know, at 52, I’m not the player I used to be. Not even close.

Take the first hole last Friday. I killed my drive. But when I got to my ball and saw the nearby scoreboard, I learned it had traveled only 245 yards. One of my playing partners outdrove me by 55 yards! I usually hit it these days about 260, maybe 265. Bay Hill is a long course. I just didn’t have the speed I need in my swing, and my putting needs a lot of work.

Yet, as I didn’t give up last Friday, I’m not going to give up on my future. My goal is to play in as many events as I can on the PGA Tour Champions. I’m busy writing for sponsor exemptions, but if I don’t get them, I’ll be out there trying to qualify.

The 92 does not define me as a golfer and it won’t define me in my life going forward.

It was simply one round of golf, nothing more. I was doing something I loved. That’s all you can ask for in life.

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