2002: PGA - Winner’s blade Beems him up at just the right time
Unlikely winner Rich Beem claimed the 84th PGA Championship for myriad reasons, perhaps none more important than his putting. Make that improved putting.
Beem entered the tournament ranked 150th on the 2002 PGA Tour in putts per round and 126th in putting average. His statistics last year were similar.
But, in a marked change, Beem led the PGA field at Hazeltine National Golf Club on the greens. His 107 putts for 72 holes were two fewer than the next best players, Jim Furyk and David Duval.
“My putting was outstanding this week,” Beem said after shooting 10-under-par 278 and beating a late-charging Tiger Woods by one stroke. “It was the same as The International (where Beem won Aug. 4, also in dramatic fashion). My putter has been just unbelievable.”
He was especially sharp the first two rounds. He co-led through 36 holes mainly because he took only 24 putts each of the first two days. He had 12 one-putt greens Thursday and 11 one-putts or less Friday.
“I made everything I looked at the first two days,” Beem said to open his interview-room session after the second round.
Beem had 29 and 30 putts the final two rounds, including seven one-putts each day. He didn’t three-putt all week until the 72nd hole, which he entered with a two-stroke cushion over Woods. Perhaps most important Sunday were the 6-footer for eagle at 11 and a 35-footer for birdie at 16, the course’s toughest hole for the week.
“My speed is better now,” Beem said of the pace of his putts. “I’ve focused on it more, and it’s made a huge difference. I didn’t leave myself many 4- or 5-footers to save par, and when you don’t put that pressure on yourself, it really makes a difference.”
Bill Heim, Beem’s caddie of more than two years, said Beem’s distance control on the greens started improving at The International.
“His pace was good there and it never left us,” said Heim, a former UTEP golfer and veteran of five PGA Tour Q-Schools. “He’s played well all year, but recently he started making a few putts.”
He made enough here to lead the PGA in birdies with 19, two more than the next best, Justin Leonard.
Beem won for other reasons, of course.
Leonard, the 54-hole leader by three strokes, faded to a 77. That was surprising, especially since the short-game wizard got up-and-down for par only once in seven tries Sunday.
After Beem eagled 11 for a three-stroke lead over Woods, the world’s No. 1 player bogeyed Nos. 13 (three putts from 20 feet) and 14 (poor chip to 15 feet). That was uncharacteristic of Woods, especially on the final nine of a major.
Beem also won because he believed. The seeds of this victory had been planted two weeks prior in Colorado.
“Winning The International two weeks ago gave me the confidence to let me do what I did today,” Beem said.
He won, too, because he found a way to control his nerves. On Friday and Saturday, he had downplayed his chances of winning, saying he might “puke” if leading on the final few holes, and that he wouldn’t drink water because he might miss his face. After all, he had never finished better than 70th in three previous majors.
But Beem came up with a way to combat stress the final day. He said he did so by tightening his abdominal muscles.
“It took pressure away from my arms and shoulders,” the 31-year-old winner said. “I told my wife I’ve got to do Pilates to keep my stomach in shape.”
Finally, the free-wheeling Beem won because he saved his best ball-striking for last. He never hit more than eight fairways the first three days, but he hit 13 Sunday. He never hit more than 11 greens in regulation the first three rounds, but he hit 15 the final day.
“He played a great round of golf,” Leonard said. “He certainly played better than anyone over the weekend, and that’s when you win a major championship.”