Shots Fired and Misfired

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Sometimes you dont even have to finish asking the question before you get the answer.
 
Think theres any chance
 
Zero. Zero.
 
Arnold Palmer laughed and smiled when he gave his interrupted response, knowing he didnt need to hear the predicate part of that question.
 
Arnold Palmer
Arnold Palmer was just left of the green, watching as Robert Gamez holed his incredible shot. (Getty Images)
Back in 1990, Robert Gamez holed a 7-iron from 176 yards for an eagle-2 on the 72nd hole to win the then Nestle Invitational.
 
Can you believe its been nearly 20 years? Palmer asks.
 
It would have been easy to interrupt him, knowing where he was going, but the question was rhetorical. And hes Arnold Palmer.
 
On this day, nearly two decades after Gamez stunned Palmer and everyone else surrounding the 18th green at Bay Hill ' and broke the heart of Greg Norman, or at least fractured it ' Palmer is recalling three of the most memorable shots in his tournaments history.
 
It was pretty exciting what was going on, Palmer says of the incidences nearly two decades prior. The crowd thought Greg Norman was a shoo-in to win. At best, we thought there might be a playoff.
 
Norman was standing on the 17th tee when he heard the unmistakable eruption.
 
''With a roar like that, you knew somebody holed a shot, but we didn't know who,'' Norman said at the time. ''Then we heard over the walkie-talkie that Gamez had made it and I knew I had to birdie one of the last two holes to force a playoff.''
 
Norman went on to miss a 10-footer for birdie at 17 and a 15-footer for birdie at 18.
 
Of course, no one remembers that. Everyone, however, remembers Gamez hole-out. And how could they ever forget? Theres a plaque honoring the shot, right from where it was struck.
 
As Palmer stares at the in-ground monument, he admits, Oh yeah, Ive hit a lot of balls from around that spot. Ive come close, but Ive never holed one.
 
You cant try and make a shot, and then make it.
 
Maybe not from the fairway, 176 yards from the hole. But when youre 24 feet away, its a different story.
 
Last year, Tiger Woods stared over a putt to win the now Arnold Palmer Invitational.
 
I was standing right in back of him and I said to our tournament director, I think hell make it, Palmer recalls. I felt like I was putting it for him.
 
I know that feeling. I know how it feels, what it means. The concentration level is so high. Either you let it get away from you or you make it. Like Tiger did.
 
After pouring in the putt to perfection, Woods celebrated with one of his most memorable post-victory reactions ever.
 
That was something we had never seen from Tiger. He did this little whirl and threw down his cap. It was great, Palmer says.
 
Asked to try and repeat that putt, Palmer drops a ball in the general vicinity, with the hole cut purposefully in its tournament Sunday position.
 
He takes one look at the hole, looks back down at his ball and slams it into the back of the cup.
 
I cant imagine why Tiger got so excited about it, Palmer says with his signature smile.
 
Just dont ask me to do it again.
 
Not every memorable shot from Palmers tournament evokes a grin, simply ask Vijay Singh (not that hed answer you) or Greg Owen (not that hed want to talk about his experience).
 
Then theres the curious case of Phil Mickelson on the 16th hole in 2002.
 
Mickelson hooked his tee shot on the then par-5 into the trees, his ball nestling among twigs and leaves. One stroke back at the time, he could have pitched out and had 175 or so yards left for a third shot and still given himself a chance for birdie.
 
But this was Phil Mickelson. Instead he tried to manipulate his ball with a 4-iron, trying to get it to go under a set of branches, over water guarding the front of the green, and onto a concrete landing area. He also needed the ball to slice a little first and then hook hard.
 
It sliced right into the middle of the pond. He lost by five.
 
Mickelson claimed at the time that he didnt have a pitch shot back to the fairway, which didnt appear entirely accurate, and that was his only shot.
 
I dont feel like the play was bad, he said after his round. I just didnt execute it. It wasnt very easy, but it wasnt impossible.
 
Standing in the same spot seven years later, Palmer agrees, both with Mickelsons explanation and approach.
 
There were a few more bushes (back then), but it was still very possible.
 
Oh, I would have done the same thing. In fact, I wrote him a little letter. I didnt want him to get too discouraged.
 
Mickelson has been called a modern-day Palmer, for his relationship with the fans and for his aggressive, unapologetic play.
 
Thinking back to his first PGA Tour win, Palmer recalls playing in the 1955 Canadian Open.
 
At the time, the person I had teamed up with was Tommy Bolt. We were traveling together, staying together, saving money, Palmer tells.
 
When we got to Canada, just by coincidence I was paired with Tommy (in the final round). On the sixth hole I hit a bad drive and hooked it into some trees. I knew my position (in the tournament) and looked at the ball. Tommy was very aware of the situation, very aware of what I was thinking of doing.
 
Just pitch it out! he screamed at me. I hit a 6-iron through the trees and onto the green. He chewed my ass out.
 
But Palmer won the tournament, the first of 62 Tour titles.
 
Its no wonder that Palmer, of all people ' and perhaps the only person ' would stand by Mickelson and offer encouragement.
 
But there is one thing, one difference between the two: I would have hit that shot, Palmer says, and then looks up and smiles, but for me, it would have worked out.
 
mbaggs@golfchannelclub.com
 
Related Links:
  • Full Coverage - Arnold Palmer Invitational