LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – In the 90 minutes after finishing the Children’s Miracle Network Classic, the PGA Tour season finale, a nervous Rich Beem knocked down two beers and two vodkas. This was a touring professional’s medication for high anxiety.
When Beem left the 18th green area as a nervous wreck, he was a projected 124th in season earnings, one precarious spot ahead of the final exempt spot. But several players still on the course had a chance to bump him out of the top 125 and out of a full-time Tour job for 2010.
“I can’t handle this,” he said. “I’m going to have a beer.”
So the 2002 PGA champion waited, fidgeted, sweated, drank, visited his kids in day care, watched on a clubhouse television and came into the media center to check the constantly changing projections on one of the Tour’s computers. When all the chasers were done playing, the emotional Beem had his happy news: He was No. 122 at $676,899, just $17,213 ahead of the 126th spot.
Ecstatic sums up how he felt. By the sound of it, he had won a second major. In reality, he avoided Q-School.
“You can hear in my voice,” he gushed. “It’s awesome. Winning a major was easy under the circumstances. This was hard. I’m very excited with what I accomplished. I’m smiling from ear lobe to ear lobe.”
Beem was on his way to the Orlando airport as he spoke. He was sitting on his clubs and luggage in the back of a courtesy van. Wife Sara and children Michael, 6, and Bailee, 4, were up front.
This was a mobile party. It started when Dad got into the van and screamed and let out his inner child.
“My kids looked at me like I was strange,” Beem said. “Mom and the driver were laughing hysterically.”
Beem started the week at No. 124, but he was outside the line at a projected 128th entering the final round. As it happened, he tied for 24th at the Disney event, shooting 10-under-par 69-73-68-68–278.
Accomplishments come in different sizes and packages. To Beem, this was a big box.
“I’m just as proud today as anything I’ve ever done,” he said from the back of the van. “I’m as proud as I was seven years ago when I won the PGA. It’s one of the most solid rounds I’ve ever played. This is what we love to do. When times get tough, you accept them, move on and do what it takes to keep your job.”
The van was about a mile from the airport. The trip home to Austin wasn’t going to be just a trip home. It was going to be 5-mile-high bash.
“It’ll be one of the best flights I’ve ever had,” he beamed.
Since the year after he won the PGA, Beem finished Nos. 183, 113, 126, 119 and 140 in earnings prior to 2009. After all that marginal play, he felt he passed a final exam at Disney with that closing 68.
“It showed me who I am, that I had it in me,” he said. “I had to prove it to myself. The game’s easy for the Tigers (Woods) and (Phil) Mickelsons. But it’s not for a lot of us.”
Beem’s mood was far different Sunday night than it was Tuesday. Pre-tournament, he talked of his money-list position as if it were tooth decay waiting for a root canal.
“This predicament sucks,” he said then. “I’m not having any fun with it.”
He played like it for a couple of days. He thought about outcome instead of process, particularly in that second-day 73. He said he felt “odd as ever,” worrying about losing his Tour card.
“A kind of panic set in a little bit,” he said. “I was fixated on keeping my job. I started thinking about it too much.”
But then he talked with his coach, Dallas-based Cameron Doan, Friday night and heeded his advice on the weekend: Play offensive, not defensive, golf.
Hence, the personable Beem won’t have to write tournament directors letters seeking sponsor exemptions, as he did last year from the 125-150 category. Between that status and the double-digits sponsor invites, he got into 26 events this year. But he’s glad that’s over; he feared being the entertaining house guest that stays too long.
“Personality pays off, I won’t discount that,” Beem said of getting exemptions. “But it’s not the end-all, be-all. I didn’t want to write letters and wear out my welcome. Pretty soon sponsors want new names and new faces. The kids are the future of the Tour. A 39-year-old fat, old, balding white guy is not the future of the Tour–whether he has personality or a major or not.”
He’s right. But that guy has a foreseeable future. It’s called a job for 2010. To that, he has already toasted.