Bean's best friend is Steve Maddox, a life-insurance salesman from Lakeland. "Steve's the only guy I ever met who's crazier than me," says Andy. It was friendship at first sight. A few years ago, Bean and another fellow were stranded at 3 a.m. with car trouble. Bean's companion called Maddox, and he showed up driving his Corvette, wearing a leather jacket and underwear. Before Bean got married, he and Maddox probably set a record for closing bars in the Lakeland area, to say nothing of cleaning them out. and when mothers saw them walking down the street, they instinctively clutched their daughters.
Golfers are a homogenized breed and few stand out from the crowd. Arnold Palmer did, injecting charisma into his career by hitching up his pants and saying things like, "The game is on." But Palmer also showed emotion; he shared his feelings, whether dismay or exultation, with the galleries. It is not coincidental that Palmer is even now Bean's ideal. Both have much in common: a rural upbringing; a dogged father who taught them the game; a modest wife in the background; a flair for doing the unpredictable and taking a gamble; and an honest face.
Now that golf has Bean, it has to figure out what to do with him. Associates find it incomprehensible that during a tournament a man can take time to wrestle an alligator, or to bite the cover off a golf ball. The first occurred at the tour qualifying school at Walt Disney World in 1975 when Bean saw a small alligator lying on the bank of a pond. He walked over, grabbed it by the tail and flipped it into the water. His playing partner, a Yankee, was aghast. Bean was accustomed to alligators; as a child growing up in Georgia he had one as a pet. He also had a squirrel, a goat, a dog, a deer, an iguana, a monkey and a raccoon that was a pickpocket and vending-machine thief. Whenever it heard money going into the cracker machine, it bustled over and tried to steal whatever came out.
He bit the golf ball when he was playing a college tournament with Jay Haas, now a fellow pro. Some people say that Bean hit the ball as well then as now; Pate, for instance, remembers being out-driven by 100 yards. But Bean's temper was such that people used to follow him at a safe distance, giggling and waiting, hecklers around a tormented animal. Finally his coach, Buster Bishop, told him that if he threw another club he was off the team. It was enough that he was hiding dead fish in his teammates' hubcaps and behind their dorm radiators. So during one tournament when Bean missed a series of piddling putts, he stifled a shriek, grabbed the ball and took a chomp out of it, then threw it into the bushes. The stunned Haas went into the bushes and found the ball. He wanted a trophy. A lot of people make holes in one. How many bite the cover off a DT Titleist?
In a very large sense, the man responsible for Andy's behavior is Tommy Bean, Andy's 53-year-old father, confidant, adviser, coach, friend and the brother that neither of them ever had. Tommy Bean taught his son difficult lessons and dominated him with what he calls "the iron fist." When he thought Andy was derelict in practicing, he sold the boy's clubs. When they played together as partners in money games, he missed shots on purpose so that Andy would learn the meaning of pressure. When, as a youngster, Andy hooked a large catfish that threatened to pull him into the water, his father refused to help until the boy had landed it by himself 30 minutes later. Tommy Bean quit drinking for 10 years. He wanted to set an example. He was the general. Andy was the soldier. The plan was to win the war.
"He wasn't no accident," says Tommy, his ever-present unlit cigar wagging in his mouth. "People say he was lucky. Shoot! I wanted to play when I was young, but I didn't have no money. The Plan was for Andy to play. He started at four playing golf, and it took 22 years to get him here. I spent a lot of money on him. He played in tournaments everywhere and never worked. People said, 'Why don't you put that big ol' boy to work?' I said, 'That'd be foolish economics. This boy is going to be a winner.' I always told him, 'Let those other people finish second, son.' He's a winner. He don't like to lose. I don't either. Let the losing be for them other people."
When Andy Bean won his first tournament, the Doral Open, in March of 1977, his father was up early Monday morning, waiting for the paper. He wanted to see his son's name at the top of the list of finishers. He had been waiting 20 years to see it there. And when he did, he fell down on the floor and rolled around in sheer happiness. Says Andy, "I'll never be able to repay all he did for me."
Ultimately, what Tommy Bean did was push and prod his son to the top; the worst thing was losing, worse than people laughing when he did something stupid. Bean blew a semifinal match in the 1975 U.S. Amateur to Fred Ridley, a teammate from Florida whom Bean beat regularly. After the match, Bean was so steamed he told Ridley, "If you don't win the tournament, I'll kill you." Bean says now, "I think he thought I meant it." Ridley won.
Bean likes to win so much that one night in Tempe, Ariz., at the Malibu Grand Prix racecourse, he spent $50 proving to a handful of other touring pros that he was the best driver among them in the miniature Formula I class.
Besides the will to win, the father also taught the son to float the ball high, never to hit a hook, and the secret of the golf swing. "Think of it as if you were bowling," he said. "Straight back and straight through." Right after Andy graduated from college, the two had such an argument on the practice tee that people walked away, fearful they were about to witness mayhem. Tommy wanted to change Andy's grip. "I told him, 'Son, you can beat them school kids, but you can't beat them pros.' We worked on it for three weeks. I said, 'Son, if I have to invent a new way to play golf, you're going to make it. You got to hit that ball in the air.' And he said, 'What about the wind?' And I told him, 'Well, 85% of the time it's good, and the other 15% you got to do the best you can.' " Thus, like Jack Nicklaus, Andy Bean hits the ball high, as high as anyone in the game. His one-iron shots travel 240 yards, gaining altitude like eight-irons and landing softly. His worst score this year, a 79, came in gale-force winds at the San Diego Open.