From top of heap, a sudden descent

Golf: A not-so-funny thing happened to Rich Beem after he brought home the Kemper Open championship last year - his game and luck went south.

June 01, 2000|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

POTOMAC - Rich Beem left the Tournament Players Club at Avenel after winning last year's Kemper Open with his future on the PGA Tour apparently secure, with a caddie who helped prod him to victory and with a girlfriend who seemed to give the one-time vagabond some much-needed stability.

When Beem returns to defend his first and only title this week, the name of the tournament is not the only thing to have changed.

Beem will come into the renamed, $3million Kemper Insurance Open having missed the cut in 10 of the 15 events in which he has played this year. He has parted ways with his caddie, Steve Duplantis, and his girlfriend, Amy Onick.

Those breakups were only part of what has been an eventful year on and off the course for the 29-year-old former assistant club pro.

Asked recently if dealing with his new-found celebrity has been more difficult than he envisioned, Beem didn't blink.

"Absolutely, without any reservation or question in my mind," Beem said at last month's media day for the tournament that begins today. "You can't imagine what goes along with winning out here, especially when you're in my shoes. For me, it was totally unexpected and I never possibly imagined what it entailed - winning.

"I've had a great time with it. It's been wonderful. I expect a little bit more out of myself. I believe I'm a way better player than I was a year ago. My scores certainly haven't reflected that, but my confidence is still there. Winning was a nice change, but it was a lot more different and difficult than I thought."

Beem is not just talking about his golf game. Consider some of the incidents that have had an impact on his life and career since he beat Bill Glasson and Bradley Hughes by one stroke. It was a victory that gave Beem a $450,000 winner's check, a two-year exemption and a bit of an unwanted spotlight for a virtually unknown player who had all but quit the game in 1995.

A few days before the start of last year's British Open, Beem was charged with driving while intoxicated in the town of Ayr, Scotland, after having had "a couple of pints" with Duplantis. He paid his fine, played in the tournament at Carnoustie and missed the cut.

"It was something I would never wish on anybody, to be caught in the public spotlight like that. It humiliated me in a great, great way," Beem said.

"My ego took a great, big bruising. Here I am playing in the world's greatest golf tournament with the world's greatest players. I get caught doing a stupid thing at the wrong time. ... Luckily, nobody got hurt."

The same can't be said about a freak accident in which Beem was involved during the final round of this year's MCI Classic. Having ended a dismal stretch of seven straight missed cuts two weeks before with a tie for 69th in the BellSouth Classic, Beem was just happy to be playing as he walked from the eighth green to ninth tee.

As he crossed a road, he noticed a man driving a golf cart barreling toward him. A volunteer dropped the gallery ropes to let the cart pass, but not in time. The steering wheel of the cart became entangled with the rope and lifted the stakes holding the rope out of the ground. One of them hit Beem behind the knees and the force of the blow flipped him in the air. He landed on his back and neck.

"There was a nurse and an EMT around and they said I was unconscious for a few seconds," Beem said. "I was in a lot of shock when it first happened. They took my neck and put it in a brace. They strapped me to a gurney, put me in an ambulance and took me to the emergency room. I was fine. I had some scrapes and bruises. The thing that hurt the most was the tetanus shot."

Beem was forced to withdraw from the MCI Classic, meaning the best he could finish was last and the check he received would not count toward his official earnings. He admitted he was a bit skittish when he returned to the tour in the Houston Open a couple of weeks later. Wary of every golf cart that came within 10 yards of him, he missed the cut at his next two events before finishing tied for 51st Monday in the Memorial Tournament.

"When I was playing bad after I won, I questioned myself: `Was winning just a fluke, a joke or what?'" Beem said. "I came to the realization that it wasn't, that good players win and then they have down times. That's been my game my entire life. I'll play very well for periods of time and then I won't for a while. Hopefully, I'll get back to a point where I'll play well again."

His best finish since last year's Kemper Open was a fourth place in the Texas Open. He came in tied for 12th earlier this year in the Bob Hope Classic, but then went more than two months without cashing a check. Beem is currently 132nd on the money list with $118,617.

Despite his troubles, he's looking forward to coming back to Avenel. He talked of reuniting here with Duplantis, but as of yesterday that hasn't happened. While Beem said it would be "strange" not to have Duplantis on his bag and in his ear as he was last year, he seems ready for being a defending champion for the first time.

"It'll be kind of interesting," he said. "The confidence I got from winning here is that obviously I can win against the world's best. If my putter gets cooking, and I feel very good with it, I think I can beat anybody. But you'll find that pretty much with anybody on tour."

Kemper Open

What: Kemper Insurance Open

When: Today through Sunday

Where: TPC at Avenel, Potomac

Purse: $3 million

TV: Today and tomorrow, HTS, 3:30p.m.; Saturday, chs. 13, 9, 4p.m.; Sunday, chs. 13, 9, 3p.m.

Tickets: Available at the gate

Information: Call 301-469-3737

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