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Tuesday, November 5, 2002
Beem reaping the rewards of breakout season




Rich Beem never got in contention, never broke par at the Tour Championship. His tie for 26th looks good only to those who don't realize the field had just 30 players. It wasn't the best of weeks for Beem, and yet it epitomized just how far he has come this season.

Rich Beem went from just another touring pro to instant celebrity after his PGA Championship victory.

Just making it to the Tour Championship was inconceivable to Beem at the start of the year. That anybody would scrutinize his play there would have been even more unbelievable.

But that is what winning a major championship does for a player. Now, Beem will be expected to live up to such status every time he sticks a tee in the ground.

Beem's feel-good victory at the PGA Championship in August is among golf's top stories of the year. The former cell phone salesman, who chugs Pepto Bismol before rounds to control his nerves, shot a final-round 68 to beat Tiger Woods by a single stroke, relegating the game's best player to his first runner-up finish in a major championship.

"I haven't changed as a person or as a player since I won,'' said Beem, who finished seventh on the PGA Tour money list -- after finishing 109th in 2001 -- with $2,938,365. "When I get in contention, I really start playing well. Then I play extremely well. That's how I've done what I've done.

"But I'm still getting better. I'm not all of a sudden this world-class player because I won the International and the PGA. But it certainly helps my psyche quite a bit.''

The Tour Championship was among a series of perks for Beem, who pocketed more than $80,000 for the four-day, no-cut event. And there's more of that to come.

Changes for 2003
Last week, PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem announced several changes, including the renaming of the Senior Tour to the Champions Tour and the Buy.com Tour to the Nationwide Tour. Both circuits will be more closely tied to the PGA Tour in order to take advantage of its appeal and branding, Finchem said.

Finchem
Finchem

The commissioner also announced that the tour will have 48 events, one less than this year. All will be fully sponsored, although several title sponsors for events have yet to be named.

The tour will not play an event opposite the American Express Championship, a World Golf Championship event. In fact, if some players had their way, the tour would not play tournaments opposite any marquee events, including last week's Tour Championship.

For the fifth time this year (sixth if you include the Ryder Cup), two events were held during the same week. Opposite the Tour Championship was the Southern Farm Bureau Classic in Mississippi, where rain shortened the event to 54 holes. Many in the field were vying to remain in the top 125 money winners in order to keep their full playing privileges for next year.

David Duval, who did not qualify for the Tour Championship, elected not to play in Mississippi, partly due to his stance on the issue. Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson also believe there should be just one tournament.

"If you can't make the field that week, we have Buy.com Tour events, mini-tour events, European events,'' said Mickelson, who believes too many events dilute the PGA Tour product. "To have an event conflict with the Tour Championship is ridiculous. The (regular tour) should have ended (the week prior).''

The tour's stance is that it believes it is important to offer players as many opportunities as possible. That's why, sponsors willing, there are opposite events. Woods understands the concept but believes the marquee events should stand alone. As for those who can't make their way in?

"Play better,'' he said. "It's a crude way of saying it, but it's the truth.''

He played in the Wendy's Three-Tour Challenge and will participate in the Hyundai Team Matches. He has been invited to play in the Australian Open, where he'll pick up a hefty appearance fee. Then he'll be in Hawaii for the Grand Slam of Golf, before Woods' Target World Challenge, which brings together 16 players who will compete for a $1 million first prize.

Somewhere in there, Beem hopes to get a little rest before the new season starts. The financial pressure is off in terms of his immediate future. But in terms of building on his success, Beem has a long way to go.

"I am able to handle the miscues a lot better than I would have in years past,'' he said. "Part of it is because I know I have full exemptions for the next five years, but part of it is also because I know what I can and can't do as far as my limitations with the golf ball.

"After last year when I struggled to keep my card, I told myself I never want to be in that position ever again,'' Beem said. "It was like momentum stop, momentum stop. But I am ready now to stay on this tour.''

Beem, who seven years ago quit golf to sell cell phones and car stereos in Seattle, returned to the game in 1998, taking an assistant pro club job in El Paso, Texas. He worked on his game, had a group of El Paso Country Club members put up money to sponsor him on tour, and returned to the PGA Tour Qualifying Tournament, where he earned his card for 1999.

That year, he came from nowhere to earn his first PGA Tour victory at the Kemper Open. But the momentum didn't last long.

His victory was no more of shock to the golf world than it was to Beem himself. But the way he played afterward, Beem had the look of a fluke. He missed eight cuts in the remaining 12 tournaments that year. This year, starting with his win at the International, Beem has made nine straight cuts.

"That's what is different this time, how I treated it,'' Beem said. "After I won the first time, I didn't practice hard. I just kind of took everything for granted. And it came back and bit me quite firmly and squarely right in the butt. This time around, I'm grinding. Right now, I'm not playing very well, scoring very well. But I'm working at it.''

And he has his success at the International and PGA to fall back on. His back-nine 34 at Hazeltine in Minnesota included an eagle and a clutch birdie at the 16th hole with Woods right on his back.

"The confidence has improved a lot on and off the course,'' Beem said. "Confidence is everything. It's the difference between the upper echelon guys and the guys who are hanging into the top 125, right on the bubble. Without confidence, you are going to go out there and flounder.

"My confidence is a lot higher, not only with golf, but as a person as well. I don't want to let anyone down on the golf course, but I want people to understand that just because I won the PGA and the International, I'm not that different of a player than I was before.''

Bob Harig, who covers golf for the St. Petersburg Times, writes a weekly column for ESPN.com.


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