The terrible paradox in the world of golf is that when you're playing well, you get late tee times. So you can get drunk the night before because you've got all morning to sleep it off.
—FRANK BEARD, 1989
The drama of Frank Beard's comeback as a tournament golfer was muted only by the fact that hardly anybody knew what he was coming back from. He was suddenly there, in the hunt, at this year's U.S. Senior Open at Laurel Valley Golf Club in Ligonier, Pa. A second-round 69 gave Beard a one-stroke lead and a seat in the press tent, and he answered reporters' questions with a far-off look in his eyes, as if he were waking from a profound slumber.
Two days later, Beard found himself on national television in a final-round showdown with senior hotshot Orville Moody and somewhat unsure whether his nerves could stand the test thrust on him so abruptly. Playing in only his eighth tournament as a member of the Senior PGA Tour, Beard, 50, stood over the ball so long at times that he seemed certain to shank or skull the ball.
"I felt his fear," says his wife, Susan, who walked the course with their children, Bridget, 7, and Michael, 9. "Those who knew him—they could all see it."
That Beard held himself together in spite of the stares and speculation of the curious made his final-round 72 at Laurel Valley perhaps his biggest achievement as a golfer—bigger, certainly, than the 11 PGA Tour wins he had between 1963 and '71. Time after time, when it seemed that his composure might crack, he drew the club back with a smooth motion that drew murmurs from the gallery and then applause for the ball's classic flight, a low, climbing draw. Beard didn't win the Senior Open—he finished second to Moody—but he evoked the admiration of all who watched his performance and tears from a few of them. "There's nobody on earth that tries as hard as he does," Susan said when the tournament was over. "God, to watch him struggle the way he does. I think I'd kill myself."
This is Beard's untold story...except that he has told it hundreds of times. Usually not to sportswriters but to ordinary folks from all walks of life, some of them with the same far-off look in their eyes. They meet in storefronts and church halls, and when it's Beard's turn to speak, he always begins with the same words: "My name is Frank...and I'm an alcoholic."
"I haven't had a drink since December 10, 1981," he begins, sitting on his living room couch in Palm Desert, Calif., looking about as comfortable as a patient in a waiting room. "I have learned to deal with sobriety. I will be an alcoholic till the day I die, but I'm always in a state of recovery as long as I do two things: don't drink and treat my disease."
Beard is at home, trying to unwind from his first 13 weeks on the Senior tour. By any objective measure his return this year to competitive golf after eight years of self-imposed exile has been impressive: Through September he had three seconds, one of them a tie, six top-10 finishes and $159,938 in official prize money. But Beard, always the self-punishing perfectionist, squints at success through narrow eyes. Outside, the desert sun sparkles on the blue water of his swimming pool, but he doesn't look interested in a swim. "I've never been able to relax," he says. "I've been compulsive all my life about whatever I've been doing."
Beard has already been to an early-morning Alcoholics Anonymous meeting at Fellowship Hall, a church building a few blocks from his home. "This valley is the haven for alcoholics," he says. "There's no place in the world that has the meetings and the fellowship we have here. Five meetings a day, seven days a week. You go in and you realize you're not a three-headed goat, because you're sitting next to a chairman of the board, a laborer, a golf pro, and we all have the same problems."
It took more than a decade for Beard's ills to manifest themselves to his peers. A fretful fellow from Louisville, Ky., he played on the 1969 and '71 U.S. Ryder Cup teams and was the Tour's leading money-winner in 1969 ($175,224). But he won few fans. Some people dismissed him as colorless, others called him the nine-to-five pro because, in the words of Frank Hannigan, formerly senior executive director of the USGA, "He tried to deny the romance of golf." Still others detected a suppressed anger in Beard, one that extended even to matters of public policy. He says, "I've always been kind of a redneck about things like welfare and taxes." But few suspected the depth of his anger—not even Dick Schaap, who, with Beard, wrote, Pro: Frank Beard on the Golf Tour. The book, published in 1970, was based on an oral journal Beard kept during the 1969 season and is as dark and obsessive, in its way, as a Kafka allegory.