Robert Gamez’s Arnold Palmer run getting unceremonious end

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ORLANDO, Fla. — Robert Gamez has had — and will continue to have — many better days on the golf course than the one he experienced on Friday.

The 20-over 92 Gamez shot in the second round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill to finish 27-over and DFL through 36 holes surely was a shock to his system.

Tour pros don’t shoot 92.

But Gamez, who opted not to sign his card to publicly post the score and, as a result, was officially disqualified, handled it with grace and class. He still was smiling by the time he walked off the very 18th green on which he experienced the greatest golf moment of his life 32 years ago.

If you were watching the tournament on TV the past two days and wondered why a 52-year-old journeyman with three career PGA Tour victories (the last coming in 2005) was in the field in the first place, it’s because of that one shining moment.

In 1990, as a 21-year-old on his way to winning PGA Tour Rookie of the Year, Gamez jarred a 176-yard 7-iron for eagle on the 72nd hole to win the tournament, then called the Nestle Invitational. He edged out Greg Norman and Larry Mize, who had a one-shot lead at the time.

The TV highlight of the shot has run at least three times this week on Golf Channel and NBC broadcasts — as it does every year during Arnold Palmer week.

The iconic shot has become part of Bay Hill tournament history. A plaque commemorating it rests in the fairway of No. 18, the hole the club calls “Devil’s Bathtub’’ for the lake the protects the green.

Robert Gamez
Robert Gamez holds his ball high after sinking a 176-yard shot from the fairway for an eagle on the 18th hole to win the Nestle Invitational in 1990.
AP

This week was the 32nd consecutive year Gamez has played the tournament founded by and named after Palmer, with whom he became friends — particularly after he and his wife moved to Bay Hill and joined the club in the early 2000s.

Of those years participating, Gamez kept the playing streak going despite a serious car wreck that left him hospitalized for a week in 1998 and despite quadruple-bypass heart surgery in 2014.

Gamez hasn’t made a cut at Bay Hill since 2008. He, in fact, has missed the cut 24 times. But regardless of how he played in a given year, as a past champion, Gamez always knew he would be invited back the following year.

Not anymore.

On Monday, the PGA Tour and its player advisory council voted to change the rule on automatically inviting past champions back. Gamez said he received word of that via email on Tuesday as he went out to play a practice round.

“I think Arnold would be rolling over in his grave if he knew that,’’ Gamez told The Post after his round Friday.

Palmer should turn over in his grave at this unfortunate news.

Every tournament should invite its past champions into the field. It’s one of the elements that makes the Masters as special as it is.

“That’s what’s disappointing,’’ Gamez said. “I’m not taking a spot from somebody, because it’s a 120-man invitational field. If I were taking a spot from somebody, I would think about stepping down and letting someone else play. For this event, I have a history. It’s 32 straight events for me. And unfortunately, I think it’s going to end.’’

Unceremoniously.

Gamez said rarely does a day go by when he’s not asked about his winning shot in 1990.

“People ask me about it all the time,’’ he said. “It’s one of those shots that’s in the history books.’’

It, too, is a shot with a wonderful backstory to it. He was paired with Mize, who’d hit his tee shot into the right rough and was taking a lot of time over his second shot.

“It was just a freak thing,’’ Gamez recalled. “I was going to cut a little 6-iron in there, but the longer [Mize] took the more nervous I got. And when you’re nervous, you don’t want to swing soft, so I decided to do with a hard 7 and try to draw it. I knew it was going to be close, because it was just what I pictured. You never think it’s going to go in.’’

Just like Gamez never thought he’d be shut out of an Arnold Palmer Invitational.

“I’d love to play next year,’’ Gamez said. “I’m hoping somehow they realize what they’re doing. You would hope that they look at it and say these guys [past champions] deserve to be here. Mr. Palmer would want it.’’

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