19th hole: Rich Beem is playing the PGA Championship and doesn't care what you think

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19th hole: Rich Beem is playing the PGA Championship and doesn't care what you think

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19th hole: Rich Beem is playing the PGA Championship and doesn't care what you think

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Once a year Rich Beem laces up his spikes and plays on the PGA Tour in the only one of the three events he won that still exists: the PGA Championship.

His improbable victory came back in 2002 when he held off Tiger Woods by a single shot at Hazeltine. Even years after injuries and poor form segued him into television, Beem will arrive on the range at Bethpage Black with the cocksure strut of a man who knows he belongs there.

“I’m sure there are a few players looking at me and thinking, ‘That poor guy, he’s playing the only tournament he can possibly get into’,” he says cheerfully. “And my answer would be ‘Yep, I certainly am!’ ”

Despite living in Texas, Beem isn’t impervious to reality. Eleven missed cuts in 15 years had him considering forgoing the berth in the field accorded former champions under age 65. Until a chance conversation with David Duval at Royal Troon three years ago. Duval won the ’01 British Open and continued to show up every year despite having long since lost his game and status.

“This is my spot. I’ve earned it so I’m going to play for as long as I want to,” Duval told him. That resonated with Beem, who plans to increase his competitive schedule when he joins the PGA Tour Champions in 2020.

“I still love playing. I feel like I always have a decent chance of making the cut. I don’t feel like I’m going out there to embarrass myself or I wouldn’t play,” he says. “Last year I shot 74-69. To me, that’s good playing. Now whether it’s good enough to make the cut is another thing.” It wasn’t good enough at Bellerive, missing by three.

The killjoy argument favored by some is that having long-ago earned a spot in the 156-man field doesn’t mean Beem ought to actually take it, that he’s denying an opportunity to a presumably more competitive alternate. It’s a suggestion he dismisses.

“Not my rules, PGA of America’s rules! I’m abiding by them,” he says. “Go to the Masters, the Open Championship. They still have guys that tee it up who don’t really have a great opportunity to make the cut. But they’re still encouraged to play.”

Beem’s exemption runs another 17 years – just beyond the last date for which the PGA of America already announced its venues — but he’s figuring on only another seven or eight starts. “I know my limitations and I can’t see myself getting out there much past 55,” he says. “I’m going to enjoy it while I can because pretty soon I’m not going to be able to tee it up and I’ll be pretty damn disappointed.”

Beem has the kind of nonchalant attitude you’d expect in a man who once took a break from playing professional golf to sell car stereos in Seattle. It’s a carefree demeanor that extends to any player who might throw him some side-eye on the range at Bethpage Black.

“I absolutely, unequivocally could give two (expletive) if they looked at me and said, ‘What is this guy doing here?’ Unless that guy’s got his name on that trophy, I don’t care,” he says. “I’ve earned my right to be here. I’m never going to be influenced by that.”

Beem will be pulling triple duty at the 101st PGA Championship, first as a competitor then doing TV work for Sky Sports and also a late-night broadcast for CBS Sports. At least the TV gig will give you something to do on the weekend, I offer. His laughter reverberates down the line from Austin. “That’s exactly right.”  Gwk

(Note: This story appears in the April 2019 issue of Golfweek.)


   

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