Notebook: Tiger's skip shot, Beem's invite, more
Given the parade of star players and power brokers who make Augusta National a pilgrimage of choice every April, it was easy to watch Rich Beem blend into the background on a sultry Monday.
But the fact that he’s in attendance speaks volume for the magnetism of the tournament as well as the passion for golf that burns within him.
At 42, Beem is at the crossroads of his career. Still in possession of a competitive spirit to try and make it on the PGA Tour, he is without status and thus has his 2013 schedule been the definition of eclectic: One tournament on the PGA Tour, one on the Web.com Tour, one on the European’s Challenge Tour, and one an exhibition put together by the European Tour to mirror a cricket competition.
For those four tournaments he’s played twice in India, once in Panama, once in Texas. Come Wednesday, Beem will be competing again, this time in the Par 3 Tournament at the Masters. While neither money or FedEx Cup points will be on the line, the personable Beem is looking forward to the chance to tee it up, though he’s fully cognizant that he’s in a strange place here at Augusta National – an invited guest, yes, but not a participant.
That is why Beem had dutifully signed up for as-late-as-possible a tee time in the Par 3 Tournament. He understand that heritage and charm are reasons why he’s here, that annual tournament officials invite all former major champions and winners of the U.S. Amateur to come as their guests, to be here among a Who’s Who of golf people, to play the big course on practice days and tee it up in the Par 3, if they so desire.
Many of them – from former U.S. Open champ Steve Jones to one-time PGA Championship winners such as Al Geiberger and Paul Azinger to a string of U.S. Amateur champs like Buddy Marucci, Buddy Alexander, and Vinnie Giles – take advantage and at the very least stroll the grounds. They renew acquaintances and soak in a atmosphere that is priceless.
“Listen, I love golf,” Beem said, “and the Masters is special.”
Ask him if it feels just a bit odd to be here for something that happened years before – Beem won the 2002 PGA – and he thinks about it. “It’s a good question,” he said, “but yes, it feels a bit awkward.”
Then, a smile. Beem gazes out at the greenest piece of golf landscape known to man and the thousands and thousands of people who have come to be part of it. It’s then that he dismisses that feeling of awkwardness.
“I didn’t invite myself,” he said. “I was invited. They are gracious enough to invite us and I know I earned the right (by winning the PGA). It’s very nice of Augusta and beyond that, they make us feel so welcome and the patrons make us feel so welcome. So in that respect it doesn’t feel awkward.”
As he spoke, Beem paused to shake hands with a couple of clubhouse attendants who wanted to say hello. Clearly, in the five years Beem was eligible for this major (2003-2007), he made friends, which is no surprise given his personality and the way in which he’s always maintained perspective.
If he wasn’t invited, Beem as a golf fan would have the Masters on his mind and on his television. So it’s only logical that he’d say yes, accept the invitation, and be able to experience the aura that is only possible if you get within the gates, walk the course, hear the sounds, savor the sights, and be a part of it all.
Fact is, “I earned the invitation,” Beem said.
• • •
TIME TO SKIP: As scenes go, it was a pretty good one out at the par 3 16th late Monday afternoon. Knowing Tiger Woods was still on the course, a good many patrons hung around and they were treated to some fun at the majestic water hole. After Woods and his playing competitors, Dustin Johnson and Guan, each hit from the tee, they followed the crowd demands and tried to “skip” shots across the water and onto the green.
Woods pulled it off, much to the delight of the patrons.
But the fun wasn’t over, even while many followed Woods and Co. to the 17th tee. What they heard was a loud roar. Not a Sunday roar, but still, pretty good. It was in honor of John Huh’s hole in one.
Take a bow, kid. Not a bad way to commemorate your first Masters.
• • •
COMMUNICATION CHALLENGE: When asked if there were any language barriers when he played a practice round Monday with 14-year-old Tianlang Guan, Ben Crenshaw laughed. “He speaks a whole lot better English than I speak Chinese.”
• • •
BEEN THERE, DONE THAT: If Crenshaw’s iconic caddie, Carl Jackson, didn’t seem overly impressed with the buzz created by Guan, that’s because he has a keen perspective. In 1961, Jackson was days removed from his 14th birthday when he made his debut in the Masters as a caddie. He worked that year for Billy Burke, who 30 years earlier had won the longest U.S. Open in history.
Burke was 58 in 1961 and was playing the Masters for the 22nd and final time. Jackson believes it might have been the last time a player toured Augusta National in a Masters while wearing knickers, “a white starched shirt,” and a tie.
Jackson, 66, will be working his 52nd Masters. Save for 2000 when he underwent treatment for colon cancer, Jackson has caddied for Crenshaw every April since 1976. There’s an undeniable connection between Jackson and Crenshaw, but the veteran caddie will always remember Burke’s kindness to a 14-year-old.
“He was a very caring man. His character carried him a log way.”
• • •
IT’S HIS KIND OF TOURNAMENT: Something tells me that if they played the Texas Open in a phone booth in downtown San Antonio, Bob Estes would manage a top-10 finish.
He played in his 25th consecutive Texas Open last week and finished T-7.
Estes has six top-10 finishes at three different venues – Oak Hill CC, LaCantera, and TPC San Antonio’s AT&T Oaks Course.
• • •
GAINING SPEED: If you want to suggest that Jason Kokrak is gaining confidence and settling into a comfort zone, there are serious numbers to suggest just that.
Having made just $227,331 during his first 24 tournaments in his rookie season a year ago, Kokrak has seemingly developed a sense of direction. He’s headed north on the leaderboard, with four finishes inside the top 15 in his last 13 tournaments, stretching back to 2012.
In those 13 tournaments, Kokrak has piled up $936,678.
One of the tour’s longest hitters, Kokrak is also one of the wildest (he ranks 172nd in driving accuracy) but he’s 77th in greens in regulation, so a steadier game is developing.