Beem warms up to major triumph

`That is really cool' is way PGA victor recalls his final-round challenge


August 20, 2002|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

CHASKA, Minn. - From the discomfort of his living room, Larry Beem watched his suddenly famous son win the 84th PGA Championship at Hazeltine National Golf Club on Sunday afternoon.

Every few holes, the elder Beem couldn't bear to watch, so he'd go outside to calm his jittery nerves. Then he'd take another peek. "From behind the screen door," he said a few hours later from his home in Las Cruces, N.M., where he coaches golf at New Mexico State.

As calm as Rich Beem seemed to be during what turned into a one-stroke win over Tiger Woods, his father was an emotional wreck. That's one of the reasons Larry Beem's career as a player never took off and why his son's might with this significant and scintillating victory.

"I played with a lot of anger instead of joy," said Larry Beem, who played at New Mexico State during the 1960s before becoming a club pro for many years. "He's a lot like I am in terms of how emotional he gets, but he has his mother's joy."

Rich Beem's emotions were pretty much under wraps for much of the round, but when he made a 35-foot birdie putt on the devilish, par-4 16th hole to increase his lead over Woods momentarily to four shots, Beem did what many players have done there after making double bogeys.

He tossed the ball into Lake Hazeltine.

"That came out of my wild spirit, I guess," Beem said. "I was pretty fired up, obviously. I was really glad there was a long walk from 16 green to 17 tee box, so I could slow myself down, and that wasn't really possible because there were about 85,000 people screaming at the top of their lungs. That is really cool. It's like a rock concert out there. It was really cool."

"Cool" is one of Beem's favorite expressions, at least those you can understand.

Told that among his many perks for his third PGA Tour victory would be a trip to Hawaii this fall for the made-for-television Grand Slam of Golf event that includes the year's major championship winners, Beem said: "All these things are cool. Probably going to get Tiger and he's just going to bump me. He's going to hammer me. That's going to be great."

Gazing at the Wanamaker Trophy given to the champion, Beem said: "The trophy is the coolest thing. I will always have one of these. And seeing these names on this trophy, unbelievable. I think this is the coolest thing I can get out of all of it, for me anyway."

If Beem looks 31 and sometimes sounds 16, there's a good reason.

"When do people finally pass puberty?" said Larry Beem. "It's a process, whether you're a sportswriter or a golfer or a guy who picks up the trash. There's a maturity that creeps into things and you just do your job and you don't think about it. That's the process Rich is going through. But he has the one quality that all good players need. He has courage."

Some of that late-blooming maturity has come in the past few months, since Beem got married.

Though he kiddingly says that his wife, Sara, "grounds me on the days I need to be grounded," Beem said, "Having her on the road with me is phenomenal. She takes care of all the small stuff that I just don't want to deal with. Hotel reservations, you name it. She does all the small things, and that just really is a huge lift off my shoulders."

One more thing.

"She gets the check [of $990,000 for winning the PGA], by the way," Beem said. "I don't know why anybody thinks I've got a lot of money."

The first-place check pushed Beem all the way to No. 4 on this year's PGA Tour money list, with more than $2.5 million. His victory here came two weeks after he won for the second time, at the International outside Denver, and three years after his initial victory at the Kemper Open.

"You never forget your first win," said Beem, who was then a few months removed from tour qualifying school and an unknown. "I think for me and my career right now, it seems like an eternity ago, just because I've matured so much out of golf than anything else.

"The win at Kemper was extraordinary because it gave me the opportunity to go out and find out how good I was because if I had not won there, I probably wouldn't have been on the tour the next year. But I think the win at the International really gave me the confidence to do what I did today."

Beem was asked if he had given any thought of defending his PGA title.

"Are you kidding me?" he said. "I just barely won this one. I don't even know where it's at next year. I'm sorry, that's probably rude to say. Rochester, N.Y.? You know, I haven't even thought about what this one means. But it's going to be really interesting. When I get introduced on the first tee as the 2002 PGA champion, that will probably send shivers up my spine."

Cool ones, no doubt.

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