Beem comes out of nowhere to break 70

By Ryan LavnerJuly 28, 2016, 11:52 pm

SPRINGFIELD, N.J. – These days, Rich Beem is more at home in a media tent than a locker room. That’s why earlier this week, when he was chatting with Julius Mason, the PGA of America’s senior director of communications, he joked about what would happen if he somehow played well enough to warrant a post-round interview.

“Can I just interview myself and be done with it?” Beem asked.

They both got a good chuckle out of that, of course. The 2002 PGA champion has been a full-time commentator for Sky Sports since the beginning of 2015. He hasn’t shot in the 60s on the PGA Tour in more than four years. He hasn’t even played in a tournament in 50 weeks, since a forgettable 76-78 at Whistling Straits a year ago.

And yet late Thursday afternoon, there was Beem, standing in front of a white TV cart, to the left of Sky Sports reporter Sarah Stirk, answering questions about his 1-under 69 at this PGA Championship.

Beem had already agreed to dissect his round on camera no matter what he shot in the opening round.

“So I’m happy to get in there with a good number,” he said, “instead of having to describe all the bad stuff that could have happened out there.”

Yes, for one glorious day, at least, he beat Jordan Spieth (70).

He beat Phil Mickelson (71).

He beat Sergio Garcia (72) and Rory McIlroy (74) and Dustin Johnson (77).

“They’re probably scratching their heads as much as I am,” he said.

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Even after all these years, Beem, 45, remains a crowd favorite. He’s one of the most improbable major winners in the sport’s long history, after outlasting Tiger Woods at Hazeltine in what was only his fourth career major appearance. He never won again, anywhere.

Beem played at least 20 events in all but one season from 1999-2011, each year scratching and clawing to finish inside the top 125 in earnings, but his starts became less frequent over the past few seasons.

When it became clear that he no longer had the ability to play the Tour for a living, Beem took the advice of several golf writers who suggested he find a spot in the commentary booth. He’s knowledgeable. He’s entertaining. And he’s brutally honest. His second career, it turns out, has been a rousing success.

As for his first love? His clubs practically collect dust nowadays. 

Beem barely played the first few months of this year because of tendinitis in his right shoulder. He met with his wife’s uncle, one of the country’s leading orthopedic surgeons, and was put on a strength-training regimen. Recently, he had an injection that finally allowed him to play pain-free.

With the PGA circled on his calendar, as it is every year, Beem began hitting balls only a month ago, at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, which he worked for Sky Sports. Predictably, his short game was rusty, but he’d seen encouraging signs during a few rounds overseas, especially after a tip to widen his swing.

“For some odd reason,” he said, “it has started to click. … Maybe that’s why I played good. I forgot all the bad crap I was doing.”

But Beem was already dreading his return here to brawny Baltusrol, which he described as a “big-boy golf course where you’ve gotta wear your big-boy pants to play.” Though he shot 79-78 in 2005, in practice rounds last week he found the venue more forgiving, particularly off the tee.

A bizarre putter switch paid off, too.

After using a fancy Titleist Scotty Cameron model for years, Beem returned to his old Bulls Eye putter, with its sweet spot “the size of a gnat’s ass.” He played the ball off the toe, made an aggressive stroke and saw putts roll in with shocking consistency.

“If I actually play well enough this week,” he said, “I think I’m going to send Scotty Cameron back a good 15 to 20 years. Instead of everything coming off hotter, faster and prettier, he’s going to have to figure out how to come off deader and slower.”

Oh, but his scores were still ugly. Earlier this week, he played a windswept round at Liberty National, but his game was so poor that he started pounding Coors Lights on the 11th hole. “I just couldn’t handle it anymore,” he said.

But Thursday at Baltusrol, he felt a strange sense of calm as he began on the easier back nine. He birdied his first two holes, added another on 18 and turned in 34.

Sure, he made some mistakes, like the bogeys on the second and fifth holes, but he managed his game well and tacked on another birdie on the eighth to break 70.

“He played nicely, like he’s been playing all year long,” said Steve Stricker, who shot 69 in the same group. “I was impressed with the way he played.

“I know what it’s like when you don’t play for a while and you try to compete and things aren’t sharp. But he was pretty sharp. He managed his game nicely for a guy who hasn’t played at all.”

But he’s not just a guy who hasn’t played at all.

He’s a guy who hasn’t played well. In years.

“Oh God, I cannot remember the last time I shot under par in a tournament round,” Beem said. “I don’t know. I couldn’t tell you.”

The answer: Not since the third round of the 2013 Dunhill Links. 

Three years ago.

“I handled myself pretty good today,” he said, “but I have three more ro—.”

Here he stopped himself.

Hopefully,” he continued, “I have three more rounds to go. Look at me – I’m already getting ahead of myself. Jesus.”

Yes, Friday is another day. He isn’t expecting a repeat, or maybe even anything remotely close. This was his first sub-70 score in a major in nine years.

“If nothing else,” he said, “I can say that I shot 69 at Baltusrol on Thursday, and if you guys ask me about tomorrow, well, I shot 69 yesterday!”

As Beem was wrapping up his surreal post-round interviews, his mind was already drifting to the rest of his evening: A quick shower, then a return to the course for his real job, the commentary work, the gig that still pays the bills.

“Good luck the rest of the way,” an interviewer said, extending his hand. 

“Thank you,” Beem replied. “I’ll definitely need it.”

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What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

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Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

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Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.