Those who hung around remember the stretch limo parked outside the Bay Hill clubhouse. Long white job.
In the gathering darkness in Orlando, Fla., last March, laughter carried from the hospitality tents. Revelers were toasting the shot of the 1990 golf season: rookie Robert Gamez's seven-iron from the fairway for an eagle on the 72nd hole of the Nestle Invitational, to nip Greg Norman for the championship by a stroke.
And there was this flashy limo in the drive, a vehicle suitable for a rock star. It was waiting for Gamez.
Catch the scene. The chauffeur jumps to attention. The tournament champion saunters out, a chunky, handsome warrior with round Aztec features and an unhurried way of moving. He is a cool, groomed character surrounded by sycophants, light glinting off his gold necklace and bracelet. The happy entourage piles into the limo and glides off into the night.
Now catch this scene. It is nine months later, the week after Christmas, and Gamez is standing in his new house in the Canyon Gate development in Las Vegas. The pond on the golf course below his balcony is frozen. And Gamez looks a little frozen himself. His 3,200-square-foot bachelor pad is behind schedule and lacks a few amenities, such as furniture, water and heat.
"Man, I wish that was turned on," he says, eyeing a big Jacuzzi parked on the plywood subfloor outside the master bath. "Or that." He nods at a marble fireplace that will eventually warm the air above his tub. It's easy to picture Gamez in the Jacuzzi, with bubbles up to his chest, one hand holding a highball glass, his PGA Rookie of the Year Rolex gleaming on his wrist.
What about putting a slot machine on the wide windowsill, Robert?
"I'm not like that," he says with a laugh.
He's not? Getting an accurate read on Gamez has occupied PGA Tour observers since January 1990, when, at 21, the University of Arizona dropout won the Tucson Open, his first tournament as a Tour member. The search for his soul gained urgency after his lightning-strike win at Bay Hill, which came against a world-class field on a very tough course. No one expects Tour rookies to win $350,000 before the buds are out on the trees up north. The question was raised: Who is this guy?
The ready answer: The Vegas Kid. Desert hipster, cool and cocky, born and raised in the neon lightfall of the Strip. Mom used to be a blackjack dealer, Dad works in the warehouse at Bally's. The Kid drives a shiny blue Lexus when he's home, popping his hands on the steering wheel to the chatterbox rap of Young MC and 2 Live Crew. Plays his practice rounds with high rollers at the Desert Inn, Shadow Creek and Canyon Gate. Pockets their money, too. Possible endorsements: Ray-Ban, Rolex, Gucci.