Kemper spotlight settles on Beem

Rookie starts fast, ends with 70 to beat Glasson, Hughes by 1

May 31, 1999|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

POTOMAC -- Rich Beem came to the Tournament Players Club at Avenel last week a virtual unknown, having made less than $25,000 in earnings as a PGA Tour rookie and not a single penny of it in the last five weeks. But he left last night a sudden celebrity, having won the $2.5 million Kemper Open by coming out of where he has long been -- nowhere.

With a hot start that included birdies on three of the first five holes in yesterday's final round, Beem built enough of a lead -- four shots -- to survive a couple of back-nine bogeys and win by a shot over two-time champion Bill Glasson and Bradley Hughes of Australia.

His 1-under-par 70 gave him a four-round total of 10-under-par 274. More importantly, his first tour victory gave him a tax-bracket-changing check of $450,000, a two-year exemption and an invitation to next year's Mercedes Championship. It also gave him some much-needed peace of mind.

"I don't have anything real deep or real emotional, just that I have a job for the next two years," said Beem, 28. "More than anything else, I'm happy that I've won not only for my father and my family and my friends, but for myself as well. I can't tell you how awesome a feeling this is to prove not only to myself but to gain the respect of my fellow touring pros. That means a lot."

A few minutes later, Beem conceded that he didn't come into the week with much confidence.

"I can't tell you how frightened I was that this dream would end after one year and that I'd have to go back to Q-school," he said.

Beem's nerves forced him to swig a couple of gulps of Pepto-Bismol while hiding in a bathroom stall in the locker room before going out to play. Tied with journeyman Tommy Armour III headed into the final round, Beem made a 35-foot birdie putt on the opening hole to help give himself a mental boost.

So did his caddie, Steve Duplantis. Fired by Jim Furyk after The Players Championship in March for repeated tardiness during their two-year relationship, Duplantis spent most of the final round telling Beem what to do. He was more like a jockey or a psychologist, prodding Beem in the right direction.

"Without him, this week wouldn't have happened," said Beem.

Said Duplantis: "I was in his ear, but he hit the shots."

Beem also was talking to his caddie, telling him at one point on the 13th tee "to get me through this." Though his nerves had calmed, his legs had tired climbing up and down the hills of Avenel while riding this emotional roller coaster. As he stood taking a drink on the tee, he didn't have the look of a man with a four-shot lead.

"I'm glad I didn't have to walk six rounds of qualifying on this course," he said to a few reporters nearby. "I'm wiped out."

Beem's round was not as adventurous as the previous three, but he showed both his naturally aggressive nature that helped build and preserve his lead and the maturity to play a little more conservatively down the stretch as he held off the late charges by Glasson, Hughes and Armour, who double-bogeyed the 16th to wind up tied for sixth after a 73.

"He won the tournament," said Armour, 39, who was looking for his first tour win since 1990 and only the second of his 18-year career. "I had my chances."

Beem made the best of his. After hitting into and then barely getting out of a fairway bunker on the par-4 eighth hole, his approach from 132 yards stopped two feet away and he saved par as Armour made birdie to get within three shots. After Beem's first bogey and Armour's eagle on the par-5 13th trimmed a five-shot lead to two, Beem barely flinched.

"I've watched enough tournaments to know that coming down the back nine on Sunday, par is your friend," said Beem.

Four straight pars kepts his pursuers at bay. After hitting his tee shot on the par-4 18th in the left rough and then watching his approach fall 10 feet short of the fairway, Beem had three shots to navigate the last 100 feet. He hit his chip 30 feet short, but lagged to within 18 inches and made the putt to secure his victory.

When the ball disappeared into the cup, Beem gave a windmill pump of his right arm and then shook both fists in the air. He hugged Duplantis and then called for his girlfriend and another close friend to come out of the gallery. Beem embraced both and then the three huddled among tears of joy.

"I sweated a lot," said Amy Onick, a fifth-grade teacher in Beem's adopted hometown of El Paso, Texas. "I'm speechless."

David Wyatt, a friend of Beem since they worked in Seattle four years ago selling car stereos and cell phones, had taken a red-eye flight on Saturday morning. He brought Beem's former employee card from Magnolia Hi-Fi and stuck it in his friend's golf bag. He also wore Beem's lucky Chicago Cubs hat.

"It's the highlight of my life," said Wyatt, who works as a computer consultant in Seattle.

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