Why did Rich Beem win the Kemper Open yesterday at the TPC at Avenel? More specifically, why did he win when all nine third-round Kemper leaders of the 1990s have crashed and burned on the final day?
There actually is a reason. Both the Avenel course and the audacious tour rookie go by the same gambling credo: no guts, no glory.
Why was Beem, who had never won any tournament on any tour, able to survive the golf course that got the better of Fred Funk, Mark Wiebe, Jay Williamson, Davis Love III, Bobby Wadkins, Tom Kite, Duffy Waldorf, Hal Sutton and Steve Jones?
Not one of those leaders, several of them distinguished players, matched par on the final day at Avenel. The answer is simply that Rich Beem is his father's son. Larry Beem, the golf coach at New Mexico State, said proudly on the phone from Las Cruces yesterday, " `Palmeresque' might be a good way to describe my philosophy.
"I don't like watching golf on TV because all those pros act like a bunch of stiffs," Larry Beem said yesterday as he watched his son attack Avenel, birdieing three of the first five holes to take a four-shot lead. "Show your emotions. Don't be afraid to let it all hang out. The way you play golf should be an extension of the way you live your life. And that's Rich. He's gregarious and outgoing."
Ever since Avenel began hosting the Kemper 13 years ago, I've been walking with the leaders on the last day. And every year I've seen the same fatal flaw: caution. When Avenel was still just farmland and forest, former tour player Ed Sneed took me around the course and described what he and fellow architect Ed Ault had in mind in their design.
"We want holes that are natural to the land and exciting. . . . If `par' for that hole happens to be 2 1/2, 3 1/2, 4 1/2 or 5 1/2, I don't care. A whole course needs par, but I've never understood why every hole needs it," said Sneed. "Too many courses we play don't allow us to show what makes us special -- the ability to execute great shots."
Beem rose to the challenge like the extroverted showman that he is. Only once all day did he play conservatively, laying up on his second shot at the 520-yard par-5 sixth. Beem's girlfriend Amy Onick, a fifth-grade teacher from El Paso, and his best friend, David Wyatt of Seattle, were stunned to see such caution.
"Larry [Beem] must have fainted on his couch," said Amy.
"Nah," said Wyatt, "he's probably so mad he crushed out his cigarette on the living room carpet."
Actually, Larry Beem said, "That wasn't Rich. That was his caddie [making the decision]. I know it wasn't Rich. I'm not big on being disciplined, but I'm big on being tough."
Courageous strategy, however, was not all that Beem need. A courageous heart was required, too.
Few can imagine the pressure Beem faced with a chance to transform his entire golf life in one day. Beem could barely eat Saturday night or yesterday morning. When he did, he felt like throwing up. "I got to go buy some Pepto-Bismol," Beem told Wyatt yesterday morning. "I can't survive." Once he got to the course, he hid in a bathroom stall, so other pros wouldn't see him and know "how nervous I was." There, he simply chugged the stuff.
That helped. But by the time he reached the 13th tee, he was mentally and physically exhausted. "I'm sucking wind. I'm wiped out," he said, flopping on a bench. As if to make his point, tournament marshals suddenly began radioing for help for a fan who had collapsed from the 94-degree heat.
At that 13th hole, Beem should have cracked -- if he was a fake contender. He and his beloved caddie, Steve Duplantis, screwed up a yardage by 15 yards; on what he thought was a harmless layup on a short par-5, Beem suddenly saw his ball -- and a stroke -- disappear in the creek. As he made bogey, Beem's playing partner, Tommy Armour III, unleashed an eagle, moving within two shots of the lead.
But Beem never wavered, cranking out clean pars on tough holes until, on the 18th tee, he just needed a bogey to win by a shot -- with a 66-67-71-70 -- 274 total. So, that's what he did.
"What a performance. This kid has no back up in him," said 20-year Kemper chairman Ben Brundred admiringly.
The huge gallery around the 18th cheered, "Beemer, Beemer!" One voice yelled, "Way to go, Richie Rich!" That was Wyatt. "It's my pet name for him. Now, I guess he's earned it."
"I'm just ecstatic. And speechless," said Amy.
In Beem's golf bag was an employee's ID card from the stereo shop where Rich and Dave worked in Seattle a couple of years ago when Beem had given up golf altogether.
"I brought it with me [on Saturday] along with his lucky Chicago Cubs hat," said Wyatt, reptile tattoo on ankle, Cubs cap on head. "I told him, `No matter what happens out there today, it's better than being back there [selling cellular phones].' "
After he had won, Beem thanked Duplantis, who had coached him all day like a prize fighter's corner man. On that 13th tee, Beem came right out and said, "Steve, let's think about this. You've been in this position more than I have."
As usual, Beem seemed to be thinking about everybody except himself. "First-class [airline] tickets for all of us for a while," he said, waving to Amy and Dave.
Back in New Mexico, Larry Beem said, "Rich will outspend Greg Norman six ways to Sunday. But he doesn't spend anything on himself, always on others. . . . I never wanted him to buy me anything, but once he bought me an $800 picture of Jack Nicklaus winning The Masters in 1986. I told him, `That's just great.' He asked me, `Do you know why I bought it?' I told him I didn't. And he said, `Dad, that's the first tournament we ever watched together.' I'll tell you, that makes it worth 10 times as much."
There you have him, ladies and gentlemen, your 1999 Kemper Open champion -- Rich Beem. If you feel like it, go right ahead and cheer.