Editor's note: GolfChannel.com will be following four mini-tour players – Tim Hegarty, Zack Sucher, Benoit Beisser and Jack Newman – over the course of 2011 in our new feature, "The Minors." Check in each week for the players' progress, updates, photos and more.
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – He dons a Justin Timberlake-like fedora with swaggering confidence. His long, dark hair, pointed, scruffy goatee, infectious grin and jokester personality make you think he’s more Captain Jack Sparrow than Johnny golf pro.
He’s easy-going. So much so he once wore his sister’s ‘skort’ in a made-for-fun tournament with friends just to win best golfing outfit . . . which he won.
He does yoga every chance he gets.
He even legally changed his name when he was 12 from Benjamin to Benoit (pronounced Ben-Wah), and now simply and solely goes by, “Wah.”
Benoit Beisser is . . . the most interesting golf pro in the world.
Make no mistake, though, this guy is his own man – a showman even – but man, can this guy can play golf.
He once shot 25 under to win a Gateway Pro Tour event on a tight, desert-ridden private track in the hills of Scottsdale.
He’s won four times on his home tour – the Arizona-based developmental circuit that’s become the West Coast’s most popular mini-tour since 2002.
In four attempts at PGA Tour Q-School, Beisser has made the second stage each time, missing out on finals by a shot the past two years.
I’ve known the former “Big Break Mesquite” star loosely from my former life working for the Gateway Pro Tour, but I recently took a trip back out to the desert in an effort to really get to know the face behind – or under – the fedora.
Our 7:45 a.m. practice round at the tour’s tournament course for the week, Trilogy Golf Club at Power Ranch, found Beisser on the tee with two good buddies and fellow competitors for the week, Jake Younan-Wise and John Previte.
It found me in the middle of a money match against an Australian Nationwide Tour rookie (Younan-Wise) and talented Californian (Previte), which, jet-lagged from a late-night arrival hours before with a rusty golf game encrusted by a worn out Golf Channel office chair, the last thing I was expecting – or ready for – was an intense grind over 5-footers for beer money.
Intense, as I'd come to find out, though, wasn’t the case.
“Two-two-two. Press when pissed.”
The game was on and so was my intrigue.
Beisser and I were always friendly in passing through the years – he’s a great interview – but I was curious if that personality, that character-of-a-guy which landed him the role on Golf Channel’s hit reality series, was the real him. Or was "Wah" simply a turn-on-the-charm-when-the-camera’s-on person, which exists all too commonly in today's world.
Four solid birdies on the front nine by my subject, a string of grinding pars by yours truly – a press won – and Team Minors was up $4 at the turn.
Beisser and I catch up on the state of his game and my new life at Golf Channel. I take in his demeanor, all the while trying to keep up with a trio of big bombers.
At 29, Beisser is of average height and average build, but athletic. He pounds the golf ball.
His narrow stance wouldn’t suggest it – most big hitters take a wide, locked-down stance to increase their stability – but Beisser’s swing is enhanced by his slap shot days of playing hockey as a kid.
“It’s what I was supposed to do,” says Beisser of the sport he played at an elite junior level growing up in Flagstaff, Ariz., before injuring his spinal chord during a game at age 13.
“After the docs told me the injury could result in never walking again if I were to continue playing, that’s when I quit for good and got more serious about golf.”
Not long before that fate-changing blow on the ice – a hard cross-check from a player much older and bigger – Beisser and his family moved from the high country of Flagstaff to the hot desert of Scottsdale, landing on the course he still plays out of today, Ancala Country Club. His older sister, Laura London (professional golfer and star of Big Breaks VI and VII), also took well to the ice growing up as a figure skater, training at 13 and 14 years old to perhaps even compete in the Olympics.
The whole Beisser family learned golf at the same time.
“We’re a very competitive family and when we first started, well . . . it didn’t go very well,” laughs Benoit. “We kind of all had that hockey mentality and patience wasn’t a big part of that. Sometimes you’d even see one of us walk off the course.”
But the two siblings got older; their patience grew, as did their skill level. Laura even captained the boys' golf team her junior and senior years in high school, with little brother playing No. 2.
“That was a great time for us. It’s something we could do together and it got our whole family involved.”
Wah and Laura are close. They still hang out and play golf together on a regular basis.
When Laura graduated high school, Wah lost the motivation to play on the golf team and forewent participation his junior and senior years.
“It just wasn’t the same without her; I lost my interest to play,” says Beisser.
Turning his attention to academics, Beisser earned an academic scholarship to Arizona State University, where he majored in their PGM (Professional Golf Management) program, which landed him an internship at a local course during his junior and senior years.
That’s when he got back to playing the game competitively again, all thanks to the head pro there.
“We would go out and play a lot in the afternoons and he encouraged me to play more and get into some tournaments.”
Beisser’s mom, Deanna – who caddies for him regularly – caught wind of the endorsement and entered him into the PGA Tour’s now defunct Tucson Open.
He qualified, teeing it up in his first PGA Tour event at 20 years old.
“Surreal,” Beisser explains.
“I’ll never forget it because I was paired with Ryan Palmer and Mark Wilson, and those guys seemed so much older and so professional the way they handled themselves, even though they were probably only in their mid-20s.”
Beisser missed the cut, but made big strides toward his future profession. He graduated from ASU magna cum laude, and then joined the Gateway Pro Tour fulltime.
“I didn’t want to work yet,” he jokes.
Seven years, four wins and four front-nine birdies later, Beisser’s still at it and Team Minors engages in a stepped-up back-nine effort from Younan-Wise and Previte. Birdies fly back and forth and our match gains steam heading into the final few holes.
Beisser’s laid-back demeanor and process hasn’t changed since the first tee.
Along with Younan-Wise and Previte, he stalks every square inch of each green before he putts to take a look at the intended pins for the week, walking off yardages and making notes in his yardage book. He hits an occasional extra tee shot or approach shot when needed.
He’s serious about his job.
But his antics on the 14th – a fairway boogie to a song playing on his phone in an effort to distract our opponents before they hit – remind me his personality just can’t be denied.
We get into it about his yoga.
“It’s honestly changed my life,” he says, in a moment of serious reflection. “I really don’t think I could live without it now.”
Beisser is as flexible as they come. It’s evident on the 18th – the final stretch of our grudge match, with a press on and Team Minors two holes up – when his hard, bullet-of-a-3-wood skirts the fairway bunker perfectly, rolling out almost 300 yards down the fairway.
Approaching our drives – during a moment not otherwise made for the meek – I ask what inquiring minds want to know.
“I never really liked ‘Ben’ or ‘Benny’ growing up,” Beisser admits, with a chuckle to the question. “Especially during my hockey days; I played with a lot of Canadians and they all called me ‘Ben-Wah’ and that just sort of stuck. I changed it legally from Benjamin to Benoit when I was 12.”
Slowly, he explains, "Ben-Wah" became just "Wah." And he likes that because it’s unique.
“I’ve always lived outside of the box,” he says. “I guess our whole family just likes to do things our own way. We call it, ‘doing it the Beisser way.’
“We’re a really close family and we all like to do things a little differently.”
Within 18 holes, I begin to understand our West Coast subject of “The Minors” and realize the sincerity in his character.
He’s easy-going, yet focused. He understands he’s fortunate to live a life not many others can. He's grateful for the opportunities he’s been given.
“I’ve set up my lifestyle the way I like it,” Beisser says. “I love Arizona, love playing (the Gateway Pro Tour) and love being around my family – my sister lives three apartments down from me and my parents live two miles away.
“As long as I can pay the bills and still have fun, I want to do this for as long as I can. I enjoy life and I enjoy what I’m doing . . . I want to make it out there, but it's not a life or death thing for me, like it is with a lot of other guys.
"Doors have been opened for me and I know I'm lucky. I just want to try to get better every day."
Younan-Wise stuffs his approach on the 18th green to square the back and win the press, as Beisser and I both miss our lengthy birdie putts. But our opponents still pay up a bill to the earnest sum of $6, mainly due to the deep-in-the-red-round of my partner.
He’ll play the full Gateway Pro Tour schedule this year, while also trying his hand at some Monday qualifying on the PGA and Nationwide tours.
Beisser will make it out there on tour. Eventually. That’s my gut feeling after just one round with him.
But if he doesn’t – that’s OK, too. By him, at least, which is all that really matters.
Levy joined the Golf Channel team in 2010 as associate editor for GolfChannel.com.
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