19th Hole: With son on the bag, Rich Beem enjoys weekend at Houston Open

Tracy Wilcox/PGA TOUR via Getty Images

19th Hole: With son on the bag, Rich Beem enjoys weekend at Houston Open

PGA Tour

19th Hole: With son on the bag, Rich Beem enjoys weekend at Houston Open

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Rich Beem didn’t harbor much optimism when he wrote a letter to the tournament director at the Houston Open asking for an exemption into the field.

“I’d been shot down so many times in the past I thought there’s no chance in hell they’d give me a spot,” admitted the 2002 PGA Championship winner. He had cause for pessimism. Beem hadn’t made a start outside of the major he won in more than five years, nor a cut outside of it in seven.

He mailed the letter and left for the U.K., where he covered the BMW PGA Championship and Dunhill Links as part of his main gig with Sky Sports. His clubs came too, but didn’t see action. “If I knew I was going to play Houston, I would’ve made an attempt to practice. I hadn’t heard so I figured I wasn’t getting in,” Beem said via speakerphone from his car on Saturday night. “So I invited my Irish friends over and we decided to drink beer in St Andrews instead.”

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I suggested that preparation mirrored his approach when when he was playing the Tour full-time, drawing an audible snort of laughter from his 16-year-old son, Michael, who was behind the wheel. “Nothing gets by you,” Beem drawled.

Michael, a high school golfer, caddied for his father in Houston. He’s a big part of why Beem wanted to play.

“I want to teach him how good rounds happen, how to save marginal rounds and how to make the most out of a bad situation,” Beem said. “He’s at that age where he gives up mentally. It’s easy to teach them when things are going well. But when things are going sideways, as they did today, how do you save this thing?”

Rounds of 69-71 had put Beem inside the top 20 at the halfway point, but a lousy finish earlier to his third round was chapping him. “I shot 76 today and inside I’m fuming. But there’s nothing I can do,” he said between bites of the Mexican fast food the pair were sharing. “I gave it my best. That’s what I had today.”

Rich Beem and his caddie/son, Michael, at the 2019 Houston Open in Humble, Texas. Photo: Tracy Wilcox/PGA TOUR via Getty Images

On other days, Beem has shown he has more. On a brutally tough Bethpage Black, he made the weekend in the PGA Championship, too. Those are decent showings for a man who basically retired a half-decade ago and who is eyeing the PGA Tour Champions when he turns 50 next summer. He admits to both rust and nerves.

“Where I’m able to compete right now is nowhere close to what these guys do on a daily basis,” he said flatly. “And when I have to put a number in a box, my hand shakes for the first two holes. I get worked up. This means a lot to me. I’m not here for hits and giggles.”

Working in television has given Beem a ringside seat to the world’s top golfers and a fresh perspective.

“The best players in the world make mistakes all the time. What makes me so special thinking I can’t make mistakes? I got too wrapped up in thinking I always had to be perfect,” he said. “I know I’m a better player mentally now than I ever was. I’m not out here working on swings. I’m working on shots. I keep it simple, unlike when I was playing. I got too complicated.”

“I’m not going through eighteen different gyrations like you do,” he added, gleefully delivering his best shot of the day.

So will Michael get the standard caddie payout after Sunday’s final round? “He’s going to get five percent of whatever,” the three-time Tour winner confirmed. “But he still has to take out the trash, walk the dogs, clean up the dog s—, actually put a dish in a dishwasher. And get this, he doesn’t even know how to wash his own clothes!”

“I do,” the bag boy fired back. “I just don’t do it.”

“You don’t know how to do it.”

“Yeah, I do.”

“Whatever, dude.”

I asked Michael which of them brings the most emotional maturity to the partnership. “That’s gonna be tough,” he replied. He turned to his dad and said, “You’re sounding a lot like me today.”

Beem faked indignation. “Good! Now you know what I go through.”

They laughed easily and returned to their Mexican take out. “Don’t worry,” the veteran muttered, “Dad’s going to play well tomorrow.”

And he did, cruising at 3-under for the day until a water ball on the 18th led to a double-bogey and a round of 71. Michael’s five percent will amount to $850 or so. A nice week’s work for a teenager who can’t do laundry. By the time the leaders teed off, Beem was readying for the drive home to Austin, mission accomplished.

The old man had proved a few things this week. As much to himself as to his kid.

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