Surrounded by buddies at a swank steak house in his new hometown of Scottsdale, Ariz., working on his third Jack and Coke, Rich Beem is wearing a smile that's as dazzling as the pearl face on his new Rolex, and why not? Life is good. Around the corner from the restaurant his recently acquired drop-top BMW is snug in the garage of his new condo, a bachelor pad nonpareil in the plush Grayhawk development. Beem's digs boast a state-of-the-art home-theater system and a spiffy pool table, but the most impressive bit of decor is the hefty crystal trophy that came with winning the Kemper Open a year ago last week. It would seem that Beem's only care on this perfect May evening is trying to chew his New York strip while cooing into a chrome-plated cell phone. "I'm a two-week wonder, and I don't have a problem with that," Beem says between bites. "S—, 90 percent of the guys on Tour would take the two weeks I had last year. I'd take two more like that every year for the rest of my life." Spearing a mound of saut�ed mushrooms, Beem adds, "I would like to put together another hot streak soon so I can buy a Porsche."
Beem at least has the self-awareness to smile at this kind of talk. Over the last year he has learned how difficult the good life can be. The self-proclaimed two-week wonder may be rounding up. Yes, Beem finished fourth at last September's Texas Open, but the one week that has defined him, on and off the course, remains his wire-to-wire victory at the 1999 Kemper, the most unlikely W since John Daly set the '91 PGA Championship on its ear.
Beem had gone into the Kemper a clueless 28-year-old rookie, having missed five consecutive cuts and having earned $24,590, good for 202nd on the money list. He was barely two years removed from a stint in the straight world, during which he had quit the game, taken a $7-an-hour job (plus commission) selling cell phones at a stereo store and crammed into an apartment in Seattle with his fianc�e. Inspired by the victory of a college rival, Paul Stankowski, at the '96 BellSouth Classic, Beem—now minus the fianc�e—threw himself back into the game, working for almost two years in the pro shop at El Paso Country Club and scraping together a nest egg in high-stakes games. When Beem roared through Q school in November 1998, he was suddenly a member of the PGA Tour, despite having never played so much as a single Nike tour event.
Beem was ill-prepared for the whirlwind that followed his victory in the Kemper, which was worth $450,000 plus a priceless two-year exemption. In the year since his breakthrough Beem has been a case study of what can happen to a young unknown when he finds fame and fortune on Tour.
Last week Beem returned to the TPC at Avenel in suburban Washington, D.C., and was given a hero's welcome. No surprise there. Few players have endeared themselves to the public as quickly and thoroughly as Beem did at last year's Kemper. As if his unlikely story and telegenic smile weren't enough, Beem became a media darling with a series of madcap press conferences during which he riffed on everything from the stereo in his Ford Explorer to his "very ex-fianc�e." Thomas Boswell, the longtime columnist for The Washington Post, developed such a crush on Beem that he wrote about the anonymous young pro three times in four days.
Still drafting on the enthusiasm last Thursday, Beem began his defense with a birdie on the 1st hole. "That opening tee shot was the most comfortable I've felt all year," Beem said. "Being back here was an incredible confidence booster."
Beem hit the ball with authority throughout the round but was betrayed by his putter, and he could do no better than a one-under 70. On Friday he eagled the par-5 2nd hole and looked ready to mount a charge, but he lost his swing and his nerve coming in, closing the round with four bogeys to miss the cut by a stroke. Beem was so disconsolate that it was all he could do to mumble, "I can't even express the disappointment." It was the 19th time in 28 tournaments since last year's Kemper that he had missed the cut. The next day Beem could be found lounging on the couch of his hotel room, screaming at the TV in hopes of rallying his beloved Atlanta Braves. "I'm going to keep grinding, keep trying to find the magic," he said, clearly trying to rally himself.
Less than a year ago it seemed as if the days of grinding for survival were over for good. Bonus money from club manufacturers was falling from the sky, and management agencies and friends were filling up the voice mail on Beem's cell phone. (In the week following his victory he logged about 2,600 minutes on his Motorola.) The world was at Beem's feet. Then, just like that, he had fallen and couldn't get up.
After a missed cut at the Western Open, Beem traveled to Scotland for the British Open, his first major. He met up with his caddie, Steve Duplantis, in the town of Ayr for an introduction to linksland golf at Turnberry. The '99 Kemper had been redemptive for Duplantis as well. Two months earlier he had been fired by Jim Furyk after 4� blockbuster years. Improbably, the Kemper had been his first tournament working for Beem, and they were still in a celebratory mood as they entered a pub on their first night in Scotland. By the time they stumbled out, "I was really intoxicated," says Duplantis. "Rich was only regularly intoxicated so he said he would drive."
Within seconds of wheeling out of the parking lot, Beem was pulled over by police. He was charged with driving under the influence, taken to jail and released in the wee hours of the morning. The next day he arrived at Carnoustie for a pair of practice rounds (Duplantis drove), but two days before the Open, Beem had to spend seven hours being chauffeured to Ayr and back for a five-minute hearing, during which he was fined �450 ($683) and ordered not to drive in Scotland for 18 months. An "incredibly embarrassed" Beem shot 80-81 and missed the cut. Adding insult to injury, Beem was informed upon his return home that Kemper Insurance was rescinding an endorsement offer that Beem's agent at the time, Intrepid Sport's Greg Romine, characterizes as "very, very lucrative."