Last week at the Kemper Open, destiny called Rich Beem, and Beem, a 28-year-old Tour rookie and onetime cellular-phone salesman, recognized the ring. "A couple of them were Motorolas, for sure," he said. "I think a couple of them were Nokias." It was during Beem's wild third round, when he made three bogeys, a double bogey and five birdies to hang on to a piece of the lead, that he was repeatedly serenaded by bleating cell phones from the gallery. It was poignant music, a reminder of a fate that could easily have befallen him. In September 1995, tired of the mini-tour grind, Beem mothballed his clubs and moved to Seattle with a woman he now calls his "very ex-fiancée." It was there that he did eight months of hard time hawking cells at Magnolia Hi-Fi in suburban Bellevue. He couldn't get back on the golf course fast enough.
Beem lit out of Seattle in May 1996 without a dollar in the bank—and sans fiancée—and took 2½ years to scrape up the money and the courage to go through Q school last fall, where he tied for eighth to earn his card. When he joined the Tour in January, he could hardly have been more of a greenhorn. Since turning pro in 1994, he had never even played in a Nike tour event, let alone in the bigs. As Beem headed into the Kemper, things were going about as expected. He had missed five straight cuts, dating back to mid-March, and was 202nd on the money list with a meager $24,590. A few days before the tournament, a funny thing happened. Beem's phone (a Motorola) rang. It was Steve Duplantis, who for 4½ years had been the goateed sidekick to Jim Furyk until being jilted in favor of Fluff Cowan, Tiger Woods's ex, following the Players Championship.
Duplantis, a friend of a friend of Beem's, had a rep for chronic tardiness and was having trouble finding a regular loop. Likewise, Beem hadn't been able to persuade any caddie to stick around for more than a couple of weeks. He and Duplantis clung to each other like survivors on a life raft. After a Tuesday practice round at the testy TPC of Avenel in Potomac, Md., during which Beem smote one shot after another, the no-nonsense Duplantis told him, "I can't f——— believe you've made only 24 grand this year!" Beem hit it even better the next day, and again Duplantis spent the round whispering sweet nothings in his ear.
It wasn't that Beem couldn't play—he just needed someone to remind him that he could. Beem had grown up under the watchful eye of his father, Larry, a club pro in Las Cruces, N.Mex., who helped Rich fashion a smooth, powerful swing. Rich had a solid career at New Mexico State and on various mini-tours. Post-Seattle he landed a job in the pro shop at El Paso Country Club, home to Tour veteran J.P. Hayes and a bunch of other gunslingers who like to engage in big-money shootouts. Beem more than held his own. When he opened the Kemper with a 66 to take the lead, Duplantis told him, "That was no fluke." Beem couldn't help but act as if it had been. Following the round, he held forth at the funniest Tour press conference since Lee Trevino debuted as the Merry Mex at the '68 U.S. Open.
Beem, on his career aspirations: "What I'm trying to do is make enough money so I can dump more of it into my truck. My hobby, my passion, is my stereo. I've got a kicker, subwoofers, sound-stream amplifiers, tweeters, mids, sixes.... It's kind of fun to pull up to the low riders in El Paso who are playing all the jams and put in Van Halen, crank it up and blow 'em away."
On his hobbies as listed in the Tour media guide: "I wrote on my bio that I ski and fish. I don't think I've been skiing in about 15 years, and I haven't picked up a fishing pole in 20. I just had to make up something."
On how to get to El Paso: "Turn left to nowhere. Go 20 miles."
On how he would sleep as the overnight leader: "Probably on my left side."
But seriously, folks, Beem gave Duplantis much of the credit for his strong play, saying, "My hat is off to him, big time."
Those were words Duplantis needed to hear. "I was really surprised by the number of guys who shied away from me," he says. "It hurt my feelings." After two months without so much as a nibble, Duplantis had been seriously considering another line of work. "It was almost full-scale panic time," he says. "I've got to take care of my daughter. I've got a mortgage, power bills, car payments."