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Beem Me UP
Alan Shipnuck
June 07, 1999
Rookie Rich Beem's stunning victory in the Kemper Open came out of the blue
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June 07, 1999

Beem Me Up

Rookie Rich Beem's stunning victory in the Kemper Open came out of the blue

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Who knew that beneath this Gen X visage was a stressed-out single dad? Since September 1997 Duplantis, 26, has had full custody of his three-year-old daughter, Sierra, and she travels with him nearly every week. Unlike the millionaires they pack for, Tour caddies have no organized day care. To top it all off, Duplantis is in the middle of unpleasant divorce proceedings. He doesn't deny that he was sometimes late to shag balls for Furyk, but he had his reasons, O.K.?

On Friday, Beem shot a 67 to take a three-stroke lead. He opened with three birdies in the first five holes, bogeyed the 6th and then three-putted the 7th and made a double. "I told him that a lot of guys make double bogey out here," says Duplantis. "The big boys always come back with a birdie." On his approach to the par-4 8th, Beem ripped an eight-iron from 165 yards that was, he said, "eatin' fiber all the way." Eatin' fiber? "The flagsticks are made out of fiberglass," Beem said during another of his lunatic postround press conferences. "At least, I think they are." His approach stopped five feet from the hole. Birdie—and instant promotion to the ranks of Big Boy. He made four more birds (and a bogey) on the back nine, during which he set an unofficial Tour record for fist-pumping. "On 17 [after making a 25-foot snake for birdie] I did it so hard I gave myself a little head rush," he said.

Two days into the Kemper, Beem was the toast of the town. He had endeared himself to the fans with his aw-shucks enthusiasm, and reporters couldn't get enough of his sardonic shtick. Asked on Friday what a victory—and the $450,000 winner's check—would mean to him, a beaming Beem said, "Bigger truck, more stuff." This was pretty rich, considering that before the Kemper his foremost distinction was winning last year's assistant's championship in his PGA section. Beem's insouciance was in part a defense mechanism. He knew that weekends are generally not kind to rookies. No freshmen won on Tour last year, and the two rookies who had led at the halfway mark in '99, Rory Sabbitini at the BellSouth and Eric Booker at the Honda and in New Orleans, both self-immolated on Sunday. (Carlos Franco, the 34-year-old globetrotter from Paraguay, was, technically, a Tour rookie when he won the New Orleans event but has played too long to count as one.)

Beem, however, had a secret weapon. On Friday night he coaxed David Wyatt, one of his best friends and former cellmate at Magnolia Hi-Fi, onto a red-eye from Seattle, and Wyatt was a visible—and voluble—presence in Beem's gallery on Saturday. Good thing, too, because Beem needed all the support he could get. Playing in front of the largest galleries of the relatively starless field, Beem came out hitting the ball sideways, taking bogeys at numbers 2 and 3. Typically, he rebounded with three straight birdies on the 4th through 6th holes. Another tweeter on 10 pushed him to 11 under and into a commanding four-stroke lead. Then he took his obligatory double bogey at 12, after which his putter went AWOL. A couple more bogeys followed, dropping him to eight under and, for the first time in the tournament, out of the lead.

For the week, 44 players hit it farther off the tee and 47 hit more greens in regulation, but Beem led the field in grit. He summoned one last birdie on Saturday, at the 18th, to tie Tommy Armour III for the lead and earn a spot in the final twosome on Sunday. Beem's volatile play was attributable to aggressiveness, inconsistency and a progressive attitude. "I don't discriminate against any number," he said after the round. "Five, six, seven—I'll take 'em all."

The giddiness began to wear off on Saturday night, when Beem couldn't eat. From the time he woke up on Sunday morning, his legs felt like jelly, and the only things he could keep down before his 1:45 tee time were a cup of coffee and a muffin. Well, there was a little something else. "I got some Pepto-Bismol and hid it in my pocket," Beem says. "I went into a stall [in the locker room] to take a couple big chugs so nobody would see how nervous I was. That calmed me a little bit."

What calmed the butterflies even more was Beem's putt on the 1st hole—a 35-foot twister that he was just trying to lag close. It dived into the cup for a birdie. Beem couldn't resist winking at Wyatt, who wore Beem's lucky blue shirt and Chicago Cubs cap. With Duplantis leading him around like a wet nurse, Beem birdied the 3rd and 5th holes, and his lead was four by the turn. He still led by three strokes when he reached the watery par-5 13th. Beem tried to lay up with his second shot but hit it into the water and made bogey. Coming off the green, Duplantis made the best read of the tournament. Seeing how spent his man was, he made Beem eat a Nutri-Bar.

Pars the rest of the way brought Beem to the 18th with a two-stroke lead, and he made a mostly stress-free bogey for the victory. Following the winning putt, he rushed to the ropes to share sloppy, teary hugs with his girlfriend, Amy Onick, and Wyatt. On the other side of the green Duplantis, too, was wiping away tears. "It's redemption for me, for sure," he said. "Hopefully the people who have been bad-mouthing me the last couple of months will see I'm still a pretty good caddie."

Before doing any interviews, Beem grabbed his Motorola and placed a call to the grillroom at El Paso CC. He wanted to buy the next round. In fact, Beem couldn't part with his newfound riches fast enough. He was already going on about a new sound system for his truck, maybe adding a Porsche Boxster to the fleet and definitely upgrading to first class on the flight home. When he talked about what the victory meant for his family and his future, he got teary again, as did Wyatt, who may not have been as instrumental as Duplantis was but certainly played a part. He had slipped Beem a good luck charm. It was a pilfered employee ID from Magnolia Hi-Fi. Just another little reminder of Beem's old life, the one that now seemed very far away.

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