Surrounded by buddies at a swank steak house in his new hometown
of Scottsdale, Ariz., working on his third Jack and Coke, Rich
Beem is wearing a smile that's as dazzling as the pearl face on
his new Rolex, and why not? Life is good. Around the corner from
the restaurant his recently acquired drop-top BMW is snug in the
garage of his new condo, a bachelor pad nonpareil in the plush
Grayhawk development. Beem's digs boast a state-of-the-art
home-theater system and a spiffy pool table, but the most
impressive bit of decor is the hefty crystal trophy that came
with winning the Kemper Open a year ago last week. It would seem
that Beem's only care on this perfect May evening is trying to
chew his New York strip while cooing into a chrome-plated cell
phone. "I'm a two-week wonder, and I don't have a problem with
that," Beem says between bites. "S---, 90 percent of the guys on
Tour would take the two weeks I had last year. I'd take two more
like that every year for the rest of my life." Spearing a mound
of sauteed mushrooms, Beem adds, "I would like to put together
another hot streak soon so I can buy a Porsche."
Beem at least has the self-awareness to smile at this kind of
talk. Over the last year he has learned how difficult the good
life can be. The self-proclaimed two-week wonder may be rounding
up. Yes, Beem finished fourth at last September's Texas Open, but
the one week that has defined him, on and off the course, remains
his wire-to-wire victory at the 1999 Kemper, the most unlikely W
since John Daly set the '91 PGA Championship on its ear.
Beem had gone into the Kemper a clueless 28-year-old rookie,
having missed five consecutive cuts and having earned $24,590,
good for 202nd on the money list. He was barely two years removed
from a stint in the straight world, during which he had quit the
game, taken a $7-an-hour job (plus commission) selling cell
phones at a stereo store and crammed into an apartment in Seattle
with his fiancee. Inspired by the victory of a college rival,
Paul Stankowski, at the '96 BellSouth Classic, Beem--now minus the
fiancee--threw himself back into the game, working for almost two
years in the pro shop at El Paso Country Club and scraping
together a nest egg in high-stakes games. When Beem roared
through Q school in November 1998, he was suddenly a member of
the PGA Tour, despite having never played so much as a single
Nike tour event.
Beem was ill-prepared for the whirlwind that followed his victory
in the Kemper, which was worth $450,000 plus a priceless two-year
exemption. In the year since his breakthrough Beem has been a
case study of what can happen to a young unknown when he finds
fame and fortune on Tour.
Last week Beem returned to the TPC at Avenel in suburban
Washington, D.C., and was given a hero's welcome. No surprise
there. Few players have endeared themselves to the public as
quickly and thoroughly as Beem did at last year's Kemper. As if
his unlikely story and telegenic smile weren't enough, Beem
became a media darling with a series of madcap press conferences
during which he riffed on everything from the stereo in his Ford
Explorer to his "very ex-fiancee." Thomas Boswell, the longtime
columnist for The Washington Post, developed such a crush on Beem
that he wrote about the anonymous young pro three times in four
Still drafting on the enthusiasm last Thursday, Beem began his
defense with a birdie on the 1st hole. "That opening tee shot was
the most comfortable I've felt all year," Beem said. "Being back
here was an incredible confidence booster."
Beem hit the ball with authority throughout the round but was
betrayed by his putter, and he could do no better than a
one-under 70. On Friday he eagled the par-5 2nd hole and looked
ready to mount a charge, but he lost his swing and his nerve
coming in, closing the round with four bogeys to miss the cut by
a stroke. Beem was so disconsolate that it was all he could do to
mumble, "I can't even express the disappointment." It was the
19th time in 28 tournaments since last year's Kemper that he had
missed the cut. The next day Beem could be found lounging on the
couch of his hotel room, screaming at the TV in hopes of rallying
his beloved Atlanta Braves. "I'm going to keep grinding, keep
trying to find the magic," he said, clearly trying to rally
Less than a year ago it seemed as if the days of grinding for
survival were over for good. Bonus money from club manufacturers
was falling from the sky, and management agencies and friends
were filling up the voice mail on Beem's cell phone. (In the week
following his victory he logged about 2,600 minutes on his
Motorola.) The world was at Beem's feet. Then, just like that, he
had fallen and couldn't get up.
After a missed cut at the Western Open, Beem traveled to Scotland
for the British Open, his first major. He met up with his caddie,
Steve Duplantis, in the town of Ayr for an introduction to
linksland golf at Turnberry. The '99 Kemper had been redemptive
for Duplantis as well. Two months earlier he had been fired by
Jim Furyk after 4 1/2 blockbuster years. Improbably, the Kemper
had been his first tournament working for Beem, and they were
still in a celebratory mood as they entered a pub on their first
night in Scotland. By the time they stumbled out, "I was really
intoxicated," says Duplantis. "Rich was only regularly
intoxicated so he said he would drive."
Within seconds of wheeling out of the parking lot, Beem was
pulled over by police. He was charged with driving under the
influence, taken to jail and released in the wee hours of the
morning. The next day he arrived at Carnoustie for a pair of
practice rounds (Duplantis drove), but two days before the Open,
Beem had to spend seven hours being chauffeured to Ayr and back
for a five-minute hearing, during which he was fined 450[pounds]
($683) and ordered not to drive in Scotland for 18 months. An
"incredibly embarrassed" Beem shot 80-81 and missed the cut.
Adding insult to injury, Beem was informed upon his return home
that Kemper Insurance was rescinding an endorsement offer that
Beem's agent at the time, Intrepid Sport's Greg Romine,
characterizes as "very, very lucrative."
"That whole incident was a quick, painful education about life in
the public eye," Beem says. Things only got worse three weeks
later at the Buick Open near Flint, Mich. Two days before the
tournament Beem's girlfriend of 18 months, Amy Onick, arrived in
Flint for a visit. Onick, a fifth-grade schoolteacher who shared
an apartment with Beem, had been a fixture at the Kemper. After a
long, painful dinner Onick flew home, the relationship over,
undone by the strain of too much time apart. Beem, distraught and
distracted yet again, missed another cut by a mile. His season
was spiraling out of control, but instead of losing himself in
his game, Beem surrounded himself with an ever-changing rotation
of high school and college friends eager to whoop with their
"The f---ing guy's got friends in every f---ing town," Duplantis
says. "It sets up this conflict. It's like the old Rich versus
the new Rich. Does he want to be responsible and treat this like
a job, or does he want to get s---faced and stay out all night
with his buddies?" In the weeks following the breakup, the answer
was the latter. Beem finished second to last at the PGA and
missed cuts at the International and the Reno-Tahoe Open.
Duplantis, used to Furyk's fastidious preparation, didn't hide
his frustration, and Duplantis gave Beem's bag to a friend for
the Texas Open.
Beem is a feel player with only a rudimentary understanding of
his swing mechanics. He shocked himself--and everyone else--by
opening with what was then a career-low 65 at Texas, and he rode
the momentum for three days. One back of the leaders playing the
72nd hole, he heeled his drive into a hazard, ending his chances
of victory. Needing a bogey to save tens of thousands of dollars,
Beem nearly holed a 123-foot par putt, ending the week on a high
note. The solo fourth was "absolutely huge," he says, "because it
proved what happened at Kemper was no fluke."
Beem also proved to himself that he could succeed without
Duplantis, who had nursed him all the way around the Kemper.
Three days after the conclusion of the Texas Open, while idling
on the practice range at the Buick Challenge, Beem informed
Duplantis that he would be going with another, undetermined
caddie in 2000. "I know that at the Kemper Open I said the job
was Steve's for as long as he wanted it," says Beem. "All I can
say to that is, Things change. It became like a romance that went
Beem ended his season with a whimper, missing the cut at the
Buick as well as at his final two tournaments. (At least at the
Las Vegas Invitational he won $13,000 playing blackjack.) He
finished 67th on the money list, $546,000 of his $610,555 coming
in two weeks, though the promise he displayed earned him a
multiyear deal with Callaway that was good for six figures
annually. Beem spent the off-season getting settled in
Scottsdale, and though he has elevated his lifestyle, he's not
living as large as it might seem. The condo is a rental, the BMW
leased. The Rolex did cost five figures, but Beem was so
conflicted over spending the money, "he was on the verge of tears
trying to make the decision [to buy it]," according to David
Wyatt, a friend of Beem's.
Beem also spent the off-season reflecting on the lessons of his
rookie year. He vowed to cut back on his drinking during
tournament weeks, a practice he had experimented with last fall.
"It's not worth it," he says. "There's too much money to be made
to be screwing around."
Described by his sister Susie as "the ultimate phone whore,"
Beem also decided to keep his cell stashed away while on the
road. He has made good on the promise, leaving funny messages
like a recent one that said, "I'd love to take your call, but I'm
at the range working on becoming rich and famous again." He
dumped Intrepid Sports for the more experienced Gaylord Sports
Management (formerly Cornerstone). His flirtation with swinging
bachelorhood also gave way to a steady relationship with another
Seattle woman. ("He wants to keep it low-profile," says Wyatt,
"because Amy got so much press after Kemper that Rich is still
having to explain why they broke up.") Finally, Beem enlisted one
of his college buddies, R.C. Ordish, to serve as his caddie and
provide companionship, making it easier to say no when other
friends want to rendezvous on the road. "It's almost as if golf
is the easiest thing," says Beem. "It's life that has been hard
to deal with."
If last year was about learning how to handle change, Beem's
sophomore season has been about dealing with expectations and
elevating his game. "After I won, people expected me to be a
force week in and week out," he says. "Hey, I'm the same golfer I
always was. I make a lot of mistakes, and I probably always will.
My goal is to become more consistent"--here Beem laughs--"but I
guess I'm not destined to become another Jim Furyk."
Beem opened 2000 with a rusty 84 at the Mercedes Championships
and finished dead last. The next week he missed the cut at the
Sony Open. He then journeyed to a place called Hope and put
together the kind of unlikely performance that is becoming his
trademark, opening 67-63-65 to take the lead and match the
tournament's three-round scoring record. Beem was still leading
as he played the final hole on Saturday, but he sliced a
go-for-broke shot to the par-5 18th at Indian Wells into the
mountainside and took a double bogey. On Sunday, Beem shot a 72
and faded to 12th. "That took all the wind out of my sails," he
says, and he went into a tailspin during which he would miss the
cut in seven straight tournaments.
Beem's poor play coincided with some adjustments to his
freewheeling swing. He stands more upright now, which has made
his swing more compact. "I'm swinging better than I ever have,"
Beem says. "The confidence I got from winning is that if my
putter gets cooking, I can beat anybody."
He finally snapped his string of missed cuts at April's BellSouth
Classic, in which he finished 69th, but at his next tournament,
at Hilton Head, he suffered a freak on-course accident during the
final round. An out-of-control cart plowed through some gallery
ropes, and the twine took Beem's feet out from under him. He
landed on his head and was knocked unconscious. An ambulance took
him to an emergency room, and although he was not seriously
injured, he was forced to withdraw from the tournament. Since
then Beem has missed the cut in three of four starts.
Reflecting on a crazy year, Beem says, "What did I learn? What
didn't I learn? I learned about heartache, about emotional highs
and lows. I learned I need to slow things down, not try to be
everything to everyone. I learned that I can be a pretty good
player but that I still have a long way to go. It was the longest
year of my life, the hardest and by far the best."
Beem insists he remains confident, despite the prolonged slump
that has followed his remarkable victory. "Believe me, I know how
fast your luck can change in this game," he says. "Is that an
understatement, or what?"
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY SCOTT HALLERAN WIRED Beem, who sold car stereos and cell phones before turning to golf, hoped to make some noise during his title defense at the Kemper.
COLOR PHOTO: TIM AUBRY/REUTERS FAST TIMES Onick (center) left Beem 10 weeks after he got his big check, by which time his vision had been corrected by laser surgery and his taste for late nights with friends well established.
COLOR PHOTO: MAUELLO PAGANELLI [See caption above]
COLOR PHOTO: TODD BIGELOW [See caption above]
COLOR PHOTO: SIMON BRUTY
Beem says of his DUI in Scotland before his first major, "That
whole incident was a quick, painful education about life in
the public eye."
After missing the cut for the 19th time in 28 tournaments since
last year's Kemper, Beem said, "I can't even express the