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Barry McDermott
March 19, 1979
The PGA's No. 3 money-winner likes to jackrabbit around the orange groves, wrestle alligators and go fishing with his daddy, who counseled him to hit the ball a mile high
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March 19, 1979

Hey, Look At Ol'andy Bean Right Up There In The Big Time

The PGA's No. 3 money-winner likes to jackrabbit around the orange groves, wrestle alligators and go fishing with his daddy, who counseled him to hit the ball a mile high

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Even now, Tommy Bean continues to motivate and coax his son. When Andy insists on attempting artificial half-shots, say, a 155-yard five-iron, Tommy snorts, "I'll get you a beginner's set. You're good enough you don't need all your clubs." He won't let up, the way Andy won't let up on Debbie. When his father is around, Andy consequently exaggerates a bit about the amount of time he has been practicing at his home course, the Grenelefe Golf and Racquet Club. But he has learned his lessons well. He won't change. If the wind blows, that's the way that goes. Tommy learned just how stubborn Andy can be when he caddied for him in last year's British Open. By the end of the tournament, Tommy was so mad that he wouldn't talk. "He expected that we would be a team," says Andy, "but I don't like to gab on the course. I told him, 'You expect me to change everything for you? I'm not going to do that for anybody.' " Not even for the fellow who taught him not to do it.

To understand the depth of the pair's relationship, consider that Andy wouldn't order Debbie to marry him until he had discussed it with his father. When his father gave his O.K., Andy let out a whoop, picked up his father and threw him into a Florida canal. "There!" he yelled. "I've been waiting a long time to do that. And I guess I'm big enough now to do it." Then the two Beans went shopping for a wedding ring.

Tommy Bean is a sight to behold. By Andy's own description, "he looks like a mechanic." His father bulldozed out a swamp to build nine holes at Jekyll-Hyde. And each day he is there he manages to get more done than the rest of his crew combined—baggy, grease-smeared jeans slung low on his hips, the dirt packed under his fingernails, fighting the breakdowns of old machinery. During the winter he wears a golf hat, a couple of flannel shirts and a faded quilted jacket that has bits of spit-out tobacco on one shoulder. His face is weathered from the years spent outside, his nose is embroidered with a fine web of broken capillaries, but he is proud that his hair is still thick and blond. Even around the millionaires at Jekyll Island, Tommy Bean dressed this way, though he made enough money off the sale of used golf balls alone to buy a small airplane.

He came from La Fayette in north Georgia, the son of an impoverished cotton-mill worker. Style never mattered. "People think I'm a caddie out here," he says, gesturing at Jekyll-Hyde's cinder-block buildings. "Like I told Andy a long time ago, clothes don't make a man. It's what's in 'em. I'd rather fool them in reverse. I'd rather they think I ain't got nothing and then surprise them." The elder Bean wears a diamond ring he calls his "$50,100 mistake." When he moved to Lakeland to get Andy involved in Florida's fine junior golf program, he opened up a tire business. "This ring is all I got out of it. It didn't break me, but it sure bent me a little."

The golf shop at Jekyll-Hyde is strictly functional. The clothing rack has only one dusty windbreaker for sale, and on a wall a sign advertises 7 LESSONS $35—RESULTS GUARANTEED. There is mustard and ketchup on a counter for the sandwiches. Corned beef is 99�. But hanging on a wall is a towel from the British Open. And Tommy Bean is chewing on a cigar that Seve Ballesteros' father gave him at the World Series of Golf. That towel and cigar are the equal of a Mercedes-Benz and a vacation in Tahiti to Tommy Bean, a man good enough, but never rich enough, to be a winner. The highpoint of his competitive career came in the 1955 Amateur Public Links championship, in which he was a finalist. "A group of guys once said they would back him on the tour." says Andy. "All he had to do was every so often play some money matches for them. The trouble was, they told him sometimes he would have to lose. He said, 'No thanks.' That's the way that goes."

Although as an amateur he used to beat on his shin with his putter when he missed putts, Andy's temper has only rarely threatened to get him into trouble as a pro. He even kept his cool when he missed a two-inch putt at the Pensacola Open, swiping at the ball and moving it only an inch. He never has been fined for throwing a club. But last year he promised to hurl one veteran tour star about as far as a wedge shot, twice warning him to quit trying to get under his skin. "Work on my mind," he called it. Since then, everybody has been real nice.

"The older guys here don't like a young guy coming out and beating them," says Pate. "They'll try to work on you. But Andy's the type who won't take it. There are a couple of guys that I wouldn't want to mess with. Andy's one of them." Later in the year, the same tour star, a precise, cultured man with a perpetual expression of distaste, shared a car with Tommy Bean. Tommy "accidentally" smudged the star's perfectly pressed white slacks with his soggy cigar.

When Andy was a junior golfer, Gary Koch and Eddie Pearce got all the publicity in Florida. Then in college, Bean was rated behind players like Koch, Andy North and Phil Hancock. Buster Bishop says Bean had the most potential of any player he has coached and has only begun to show his talent. Bean has been close in his last two U.S. Opens; he shot a 79 in the final round in 1977, and blew his chance at Denver last year when he hit a 70-yard wedge shot into the water on the 17th hole on Saturday. He calls it the worst shot of his career. In that tournament. Bean made 17 birdies, as many as anyone, but he also had a disastrous seven double bogeys.

Last January, the week before Andy left for the 1979 tour, he and his father went on a dove shoot, then joined a group at a friend's home that night. The host's family owned a large tract of orange groves. In the driveway was a Rolls-Royce covered with a tarpaulin. The host wore a cardigan held together with a paper clip. There was fine food, all the wives' best casseroles, a lot of banter and storytelling and finally a session of singing songs around a piano. "Them people's gold," said Tommy on the ride home. "Those flashy people in New York, they're brass. But them people's gold."

As Andy drove, father and son imperceptibly leaned inward toward each other. They recounted the day's episodes, laughing about Andy wallowing off into knee-deep swamp water and into the woods with a sack of birds when the game warden suddenly appeared. He was over the limit, but the warden was just checking for permission to hunt deer on their host's land. Tommy Bean knew that his son wouldn't have gone over the limit if he weren't with him. "I taught you to play golf, and you outgolf me," he said. "I taught you to fish, and you outfish me. I taught you to hunt, and you outhunt me.... I must be a pretty good teacher."

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