Third wheel Beck has a blast with Tiger, MJ
Pro-am tournaments played before PGA Tour events are where the who's who of the upper crust -- politicians, socialites, captains of industry -- gather to discuss, well, whatever it is those people discuss between golf shots. Rarely do they cause any ripples in the surface of the sports landscape; rarely do fans care who wins, who plays or, more to the point, that the pro-am is taking place at all.
Until Wednesday, that is.
That's when Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan, perhaps the two most recognizable faces in the world and certainly the two most iconic American athletes of the past quarter-century (Tiger claims Jordan is "next to Muhammad Ali, probably the most iconic figure, athleticwise, that America has ever had," but says of himself, "I'm somewhere down the list."), teed it up together in the Wachovia Championship pro-am -- a personal request from the two friends that was granted just recently by tournament officials and sponsors.
Of course, the Wachovia pro-am calls for teams of two amateurs to compete with each pro, so let's introduce our latest nominee for the Luckiest Guy Ever award, Skipper Beck.
The CEO of the Beck Automotive Group, well let's just say Beck's greatest athletic achievement pales in comparison to those of Woods and Jordan.
"In high school, I always wanted to play fullback, but most of the time I was playing on the line," Beck said Tuesday after a practice round to prepare for his big day. "A friend of mine got hurt one day and we were playing in South Carolina and I went to the fullback position and scored six touchdowns in that one game. I would say that was probably the highlight of my athletic career."
Although his competitive claim to fame more closely resembles that of Al Bundy than Woods or Jordan -- then again, compared with the résumés of those two, whose doesn't? -- Beck is actually the man who got the ball rolling for the two stars to publicly compete on the same stage for the first time. Like Jordan, Beck is an investor in the NBA's Charlotte Bobcats, and he approached his friend about being his partner in the pro-am.
"Being involved with Michael and knowing how much he loves the game, I said to him one night, 'Hey, why don't you play with me in the Wachovia?'" Beck said. "And he said, 'Well, let me look at my schedule and get back to you.'"
"He said, 'Hey, partner, you ready? You been practicing?'" Beck recalled. "I said, 'Yeah, I'm ready.' He goes, 'You nervous?' And I said, 'Nah, I'm not nervous.' He said, 'Well, you're gonna be. I called Tiger, and we're going to play with him.'"
And so Beck began life as the proverbial third wheel, the "other guy" sharing the limelight with Woods and Jordan. He lists golf as a main hobby, but Beck admits on his personal Web site that he's often "shooting a BIG NUMBER these days." Once a 4-handicap, the Quail Hollow Country Club member now plays to a 15. Respectable? Sure, although certainly not on the level of Jordan, ranked 30th in a recent Golf Digest list of the top current and former athletes with a 1.2 USGA handicap, or Woods, who is, well, a decent stick in his own right.
That didn't stop the car salesman from walking up to the first tee Wednesday and striping a drive right down the middle of the fairway.
"Skipper actually digs the limelight," said his wife, Lynn. "He hits his [first] shot and then turns around to the crowd and then he throws he hand up on his heart, like, 'Oh, thank God!' and then he takes a knee."
Playfully, tournament officials then brought an oxygen tank to the tee box.
"He grabs the mask greedily and just sucks on the oxygen mask," Lynn said. "That was pretty much the tone of the day."
The rest of the round was much of the same. Some good shots, some bad shots and plenty of smiles, as the trio finished the day at 11-under, using handicaps.
Sound like fun? Or are you just incredibly jealous of Beck's good time? Well, know this, at least: Beck never took it for granted.
"It's the chance of a lifetime," he said. "The experience of playing with two of the greatest athletes in the world was hard to beat. Knowing that you're out there with a guy like Tiger, who's set all the records and won all the tournaments that he's won so far, and same with Michael."
Luckiest Guy Ever? After teeing it up with Tiger and MJ, Skipper Beck just might have an inside track on the award.
Jason Sobel is ESPN.com's golf editor. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn3.com
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