Friday, December 26

Beem soars, thanks to an eagle
By David Kraft


CHASKA, Minn. -- A 263-yard fairway wood sets up a 6-foot eagle putt, which leads to the PGA Championship.

PGA Championship winner Rich Beem is feeling good after draining his final putt on the 18th.

Tiger Woods, right?

Wrong.

Rich Beem.

Beem hit the fairway wood of his life at the 11th hole Sunday afternoon at Hazeltine National, helping him earn the Wanamaker Trophy, a lifetime exemption to the PGA Championship, a spot in the next five U.S. Opens, the next five Masters, the next five British Opens and a five-year exemption on the PGA Tour.

Not bad for a guy who didn't even qualify for the PGA Championship until he won two weeks ago at The International.

Beeming father
Something Rich Beem might not know about himself: He was born on the day of the last round of the PGA Championship in 1970 -- a day his dad, Larry Beem, will never forget.

On Sunday, Rich Beem became the winner of the 2002 PGA Championship, just days before his 32nd birthday. And this is another day that Larry Beem, the New Mexico State University golf coach, will never forget.

''What a day,'' dad said from his home in Las Cruces.

''There's a point you can't go beyond without just dying,'' and he said he got to know that point quite well Sunday. The tensest moment of all, he said, was ''that 12-incher on the last hole -- the last putt.''

Rich Beem hit a 3-wood to within 6 feet of the pole for an eagle on the 11th to seize control of the final round Sunday in Chaska, Minn., then applied the coup de grace to Tiger Woods with a 35-foot birdie putt on No. 16. Beem, who lives in nearby El Paso, Texas, won by a stroke with a 4-under 278 to Woods' 279.

It was the second tournament victory in two weeks for Beem, who won the International in Castle Rock, Colo., on Aug. 4 after carding seven birdies and an eagle. Beem also won the Kemper Open in 1998, the year his dad became NMSU golf coach.

''He's just had a good year,'' Larry Beem said of 2002, thinking back to another good year -- 1970, the year his son was born.

''They delayed the PGA to a Monday round,'' he said, ''and he was born on that Monday.''

Larry Beem coached his son some of the time but said he didn't push it. His philosophy as a dad-coach, he said, was: ''Let him play, at his pace, not at mine.'' And he said Rich didn't start serious golf until high school.

''He would take practice swings in the living room when he was like 4,'' he said, ''and hit me in the leg.''

But nothing serious until he needed to impress collegiate scouts.

''It was another game,'' he said, ''along with T-ball and soccer, just another game.''

For awhile Rich Beem pursued golf the way a bad chip shot looks for the rough. He dropped the game in his 20s, tired of struggling on golf's minor league tours. He went to Seattle and worked as a salesman. But golf kept pulling him back.

In 1996, he watched on TV as Paul Stankowski, a friend and rival from his college days, win the BellSouth Classic. That motivated Beem to try the game one more time.

Clearly, golf is a bigger deal now for Rich Beem than it once was. For his dad, it's always been more than just a game.

''It's art,'' Larry Beem says. ''It's the purest art form you can get -- even moreso than painting. You do the same thing, except it's all in your mind. You execute what you see, and what you see is not necessarily reality.''
-- The Associated Press

Playing in the group directly in front of Beem, Tiger Woods made par on the 597-yard hole, leaving him at 7-under for the tournament. He hit his drive well right, pitched out to the fairway and couldn't get up-and-down.

Beem, 8-under at the time and leading in his quest for a first major title, hit a 300-plus yard drive to the middle of the fairway. He pulled out a custom-made 5/7 wood from TaylorMade, smiled at his caddie and ripped it low and straight.

"Come on!," he hollered as he marched toward the green, eyes intently following the ball. "Come on!"

The ball rolled to center of the green, ending up 6 feet away. He sized up the putt, stepped over it and struck it quickly -- just as he has throughout the tournament. It rolled right in the center of the cup.

"It was a pretty easy putt," Beem said. "Just got it going on the right edge and poured that one in."

Beem caught fire. Woods, amazingly, seemed deflated.

Moments later, Woods three-putted the par-3 13th hole from 12 feet. He then missed the fairway with an iron off the 14th tee, and blasted his second shot over the green. He walked down the fairway with his shoulders slumped and his eyes downward, and made his second straight bogey.

Beem, meanwhile, was walking on air. A two-time winner on the PGA Tour, he said all week that he didn't see himself as a major championship winner and repeated over and over the story of his days on the mini-tours and as a cell phone and car stereo salesman.

He'd pretty much quit the game twice, only to return.

Beem wasn't done after his eagle at 11. He birdied the 13th hole to get to 11-under. He bogeyed the 14th hole, after his perfect drive ended up in a divot, but birdied the nasty 16th, hitting a 9-iron dangerously close to Lake Hazeltine on the right of the green, and rolling in a twisting 35-footer.

He celebrated by throwing his ball into the water, giving his caddie a fist bump and shaking his fist at the crowd.

"I was really glad that there was a long walk from 16 green to 17 tee box, so I could slow myself down," Beem said. "That wasn't really possible because there was a bout 85,000 people screaming at the top of their lungs.

"That was really cool."

Woods, meanwhile had resurrected his chances. Within a minute of Beem's birdie at 16, he rolled in a birdie at the 17th hole -- his third straight birdie. He'd make another at 18 -- a remarkable run after he'd seemingly lost the will to fight.

"I heard the roars," Beem said. But he said he wasn't sure what they meant.

"Honestly, I was too concerned with myself than I was about Tiger," he said. "I don't want to sound too pompous, but I was trying to control what I was doing and not control what he was doing."

"He had the advantage of being in the final group, where you could react to what the other players are doing ahead of you," Woods said. "That's the idea of being in the final group."

For Woods, it was too little, too late. Beem parred the 17th. He hit a 7-iron to the green at the 18th, then three-putted from 40 feet to win by a shot.

Saturday, Beem told the media that he thought he'd "puke" if he had the lead heading down the stretch. This coming from a man who swigs Pepto Bismol just before he heads to the first tee before every round.

"When I sat here yesterday, I didn't know if I had what it took to win it," Beem said. "Obviously, I found out today that I do, and I'm actually still surprised at myself for it. I mean, I am elated beyond belief, but I found where to put the pressure."

As he putted out at 18, he did a little dance, bowed to the crowd, pumped his fist over and over, and hugged his wife Sara, who he married last December. Then, he grabbed the Wanamaker Trophy and the check for $990,000, knowing that his golfing life is going to change as a major champion.

"It's not like I'm going to pick up and leave El Paso any time soon," he said. "We just bought a house, so I have to pay for that over the next 30 years."

Beem's won nearly $1.8 million in the last three weeks, a healthy down payment.

Yet he remembers his days selling cell phones at Magnolia Hi-Fi near Seattle, where he heads this week to play in the NEC Invitational. He keeps his store ID card in his pocket.

"Don't ever forget where you came from and that's where I came from," Beem said. "I came from a job that served its purpose, not by chance. I'm going to keep that card forever, just as a reminder it could always be worse. You could be working at Magnolia Hi-Fi, trying to get a $1 spiff on a $1 cell phone."

Winning the PGA probably means he won't ever have to worry about that again.










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