- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 16, 2000

Welcome back to the brink of oblivion.
In the year since PGA Tour rookie Rich Beem exploded from obscurity to win the 32nd Kemper Open, the 29-year-old bolt from the blue has endured a steady fade to black.
Like former unlikely Kemper champions Tom Byrum (1989) and Grant Waite (1993), Beem looks more like a pop-and-drop bottle rocket than a career tour cannon.
"There has been a huge learning curve for me," said Beem yesterday at TPC at Avenel during a news conference for this year's Kemper Open (June 1-4). "I've missed some cuts and struggled a little with my game this year. But I just have to keep saying to myself, 'OK, I'm playing bad now, but all I have to do is have one good week, and it can change your life.' I know because I've done it once."
Beem authored the feel-good stunner of the tour season last year at Avenel. The former car stereo and cell phone salesman came to the Kemper Open having missed five consecutive cuts. His biggest paycheck had been the $25,000 he received for finishing tied for eighth at PGA Tour Qualifying School in November of 1998. He had never seen the diabolically tricky 7,005-yard, par-71 course at Avenel.
And yet, despite that lack of experience and floundering form, Beem marched to the top of the leader board on Thursday and unflappably maintained his position throughout the weekend. With a bottle of Pepto Bismol in his belly and veteran tour caddie Steve Duplantis under his bag, Beem responded to Sunday's stress with a closing 70, earning a one-stroke victory at 10-under over Tommy Armour III and Bradley Hughes.
But the rainbow that followed Beem around at Avenel vanished almost as soon as he exited the property. In the 25 tournaments Beem has entered since collecting the Kemper crystal, he has made just eight cuts. He split with Duplantis, who kept him totally focused at the Kemper, at the end of last season. And he is currently the world's 121st-ranked player, keeping company with anonymous castoffs like Phillip Price (106) and Kaname Yokoo (112).
During his lamentable stretch of post-Kemper play, Beem has made headlines just twice, both times for unfortunate mishaps. Last July before the British Open in Carnoustie, Scotland, Beem was picked up by local authorities and charged with driving while intoxicated. The incident was particularly painful to Beem because his father, New Mexico State golf coach Larry Beem, had accompanied him to Carnoustie.
"Here I am in the greatest golf tournament in the world, and I get caught doing something stupid like that," Beem said. "I was embarrassed for myself and my father. I was humiliated… . I didn't lose my license, but my ego took a great bruising."
Beem still played that week, missing the cut (80-81) and returning home to El Paso, Texas, in shame.
Then in the final round of last month's MCI Classic, Beem became bad news again when a careless cart driver crashed through gallery ropes, starting a chain reaction of flying nylon and steel stakes that toppled Beem. One stake struck his leg, flipping him awkwardly on his back. Beem withdrew from the tournament and made a precautionary trip to the hospital, but the incident seems to have had more psychological than physical effect.
"It hurt my leg a little bit, but the tetanus shot probably hurt more than anything," said Beem. "I didn't play again until the Houston Open [two weeks later]. And I never felt so uncomfortable on a golf course as I felt competing that week. It was a feeling of complete uneasiness being on a golf course and seeing all the potential pitfalls. I missed the cut, and I haven't played [in a tournament] since."
That playing hiatus ends this week, as Beem begins a stretch of six consecutive events (assuming he qualifies for the U.S. Open) at the Colonial in Fort Worth, Texas. Beem recently moved to Scottsdale, Ariz., and prepped for the coming run of tournaments by focusing primarily on his ailing putting stroke.
"I'm a streaky player, who relies heavily on putting. The confidence I got winning out here is that if my putter gets cooking, I can play with anybody," said Beem, swearing his faith in himself is still intact. "I certainly didn't have a spectacular spring, but I feel my game is coming around. And I have nothing but positive memories about this place… . Hopefully, I can get jump-started at the Colonial and by the Kemper the stars will all be in alignment once again."

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide