Rich Beem's stomach left him a wake-up call early yesterday morning, and the result was none too pleasant. The 28-year-old PGA Tour rookie would be teeing off in a few hours as co-leader in the final round of the Kemper Open, and the sick feeling of nervousness was getting an early start.
"I thought, `Oh, no. Not this,' " Beem said.
Beem, of El Paso, remembered talking with PGA Tour pro Billy Ray Brown a few years ago about qualifying school, and how Brown spoke of becoming ill before the final round. Beem wanted no part of that feeling, so he tried to stay busy with his best friend, David Wyatt.
They went and bought coffee and a muffin, but Beem wanted to make one more stop: to the drug store for some Pepto-Bismol. Not that he wanted anyone to know how nervous he was.
"I didn't take it until I got to the golf course," he said. "I hid it in my pocket so nobody could see. I carried it into the locker room and went to the bathroom, and I was still hiding it. I went into a stall, took a couple of big chugs. That kind of calmed me a little bit."
Pressure is a golfer's worst enemy. Pressure breaks down swings. Pressure finds rough on every fairway and trouble in each sand trap. Pressure misses putts. And most of all, pressure loses golf tournaments.
"I wasn't trying to win my first tournament in 1985 across the street [when the Kemper Open was held at Congressional Country Club]," said Bill Glasson, who finished this year's event tied for second place at 9 under par. "I was trying not to have a heart attack before I finished the 72nd hole. It was a matter of trying to finish without bleeding to death."
For Beem, there was nothing more settling than making a 35-foot birdie putt on the first hole. "That put a little spring in my step," he said. And gave him the lead for good.
Birdies at the third and fifth holes put him up four strokes -- "I knew from that moment when the one on five went in . . . it was going to be a pretty good day," he said -- but the eighth hole provided his first dose of on-course pressure. He pulled his tee shot into the left bunker and had to blast to the fairway 130 yards short of the cup.
"Perfect wedge [distance]," Beem said of his next shot. "It wasn't that hard of a shot. Exactly 130 to the hole, and it was just a perfect, perfect wedge. It was the right play."
His approach shot landed within three feet of the cup, and he made his putt to save par. Tommy Armour III, who began the day tied with Beem, rolled in an 18-foot birdie putt just before Beem attempted his par putt, cutting the lead to three strokes.
Beem would never allow the lead to fall under two strokes until the final putt dropped. But earlier in the round and in 90-degree heat at TPC at Avenel, he could feel the sun and his nerves sapping energy.
"Coming down the hill at nine, I could really feel the strain on my legs," he said. "Just really tired. And mentally I felt pretty good. My swing felt great, but I really had been concentrating on my legs. They were hurting."
At the 524-yard, par-5 13th hole as they endured a lengthy wait before teeing off, Beem looked at his caddie, Steve Duplantis, and told him to "get me through this." That hole produced his first bogey of the day, after a misjudgment in yardage led to his ball landing in a pond on the left side of the fairway. Duplantis also made him eat a nutritional bar, since Beem had not eaten much since the night before.
"After that, I just fought hard not to make any more errors," he said. "On Sundays, par is your friend when you're coming down the back nine."
Beem made no more mistakes until the 18th hole. Holding a two-stroke lead, Beem hit his tee shot into the rough, and his second shot landed short of the green.
"I was super-nervous on the chip," he said of the shot that landed on the edge of the green, 25 feet short of the cup.
All he needed was two putts for his first victory.
"My hands weren't shaking too bad on that first putt," Beem said. "I just felt fortunate to get it to a foot-and-a-half of the hole."
The final round mirrored the way Beem had played each of the previous three. He would make mistakes under pressure but never allowed them to cloud the rest of his round.
"There were times he could have slipped, but he stayed [mentally] strong," Duplantis said.
In the end, Beem not only won the tournament but also got his appetite back.
"I'm going to muster a pretty big meal tonight," he said. "I am going to take full advantage of not having the nerves anymore."
CAPTION: After chugging Pepto-Bismol before his round to calm stomach, Rich Beem settles down to capture biggest victory of career.