Chequered past makes Beem’s win all the brighter

THE new PGA champion may not be exactly a John Daly type character but he has tendencies in that direction which is probably one reason why the fans at Hazeltine took Rich Beem so much to their hearts.

He likes a drink he's been convicted of driving under the influence during 1999 British Open at Carnoustie and in 1999 was the subject of a book called Blood, Sweat and Tears: A Walk On the Wild Side, which was a look at a rookie's year on the tour. Written by well-known Sports Illustrated journalist Alan Shipnuck, it depicted Beem as a party man who consumed too much alcohol.

Beem didn't much like it at the time (there are whispers the chief source of his annoyance is that he didn't receive as much as a thank you from the author) but is now more philosophical about it, simply commenting: "That's what I was like at the time. But I'm a different person now. I'm a better person. I have a much more stable life off the golf course."

Having given up golf in 1995 to sell mobile phones in Seattle, Beem returned to the game in 1996 and

became an assistant professional in El Paso, Texas. He wasn't much good at the job and has no doubts as to the reason: "I'm a terrible teacher. I've got no patience for it. I just didn't like the people, so I wasn't very attentive."

He's not exaggerating. He'd snap at members whose handicaps he couldn't reduce to single figures. He'd turn up for work with bloodshot eyes

This didn't go unnoticed by his boss Cameron Doan, who called him aside and declared: "You have two choices. You either quit or play golf for a living."

Fortunately for him, Beem chose the former, but Doan remains a friend and his instructor although his father Larry, a professional all his life, is his guiding light.

He married his wife Sara last December and is a member of the Gaylord Sports Management team that includes Phil Mickelson, a very famous sportsman compared to Beem but one without a major championship to his credit.

"I don't want to ever forget where I came and that's why I carry an ID card from the company in Seattle where I sold those mobile phones for $7 an hour," he said. "The jobs I've had have served their purpose. They've got me here. I never want to forget hustling around trying to get a $5 spiff on a $1 cell phone."

Perhaps, but having won more than $1.8million in his last two tournaments, that may be easier said than done.

All credit to him for hanging on during those pulsating final holes on Sunday when he had Tiger Woods clearly visible in his wing mirror and powering his way to magnificent birdies at each of the last four holes.

Mickelson and the other superstars of the US Tour have been constantly warned they have no chance against Woods if they don't adopt a far more positive approach to the task and that's a message the relatively unknown and completely unheralded Beem took to heart.

"I never thought about Tiger," he insisted. "I was more concerned about myself. I didn't know whether I had what it takes to win a major championship but I found out.

"I'm still surprised. I didn't have any expectations of winning. I can play with these guys but to win a major, you have to have something special.

"I said on Saturday I might puke if I had the lead standing on the 16th on Sunday but I was actually as committed to that shot as to any shot I've ever hit. And I hit a beautiful little seven wood out there. And what about that putt... what can I say."

Beem never had quite the wild streak that makes Daly, well, the Wild Thing but there are similarities nevertheless. The most notable this week is that they both emerged from virtual obscurity by winning the PGA Championship and Beem was very much on Daly's side when he pulled it off at Crooked Stick in 1991.

"I remember watching that with my dad and I was nervous for him," says Beem. "This guy was like he didn't have a care in the world. I'm stressing out every shot with him so I can't imagine what my father went through today. Watching John win was spectacular, his no-holds barred attitude, he just attacked everything. That's kind of my style. I think this win is similar to John's in that he just went out and free-wheeled it. He had nothing to lose, just like I felt."

Then there was the drinking. Daly has been notorious in this regard and Beem has had his moments too. He was arrested and fined for driving under the influence in Ayr, Scotland, in 1999. The worst punishment, though, was the ensuing embarrassment.

Beem said. Losing by a shot to a virtual nobody must have hurt Woods deeply, not least because of his sensational four birdie finish, but Beem said: "He was cordial, as he always is, and he congratulated me. I was giggling so hard, you can't even believe it. It was great, I mean Tiger Woods is going to go down as the greatest player of all time. To beat him like that was really cool."

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