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Andy Bean likes to fish. He also likes to hunt, wrestle alligators, bite covers off golf balls, drive cars like Burt Reynolds, have a good laugh, collect guns, argue with fools and "wimmen" and play golf like a son of a gun. He's good ol' Andy. His father told him never to hit a hook or trust a Yankee, and his dream is to win the U.S. Open and to outrun the local fuzz in the soft sand of the Florida orange groves. Every so often there is another entry in "The Next Jack Nicklaus Sweepstakes." Well, shucks, Andy Bean is the next Andy Bean. Last year he won $267,000 on the U.S. tour, another $52,000 in a Japanese tournament, and earned enough additional money to have an income of $400,000.
For an outstanding golfer, Bean is uncharacteristically impetuous. When exasperation threatens to break through his surface calm, his lips tighten and his fingers start drumming. He says he would only live in New York City if he had a helicopter to shunt him from rooftop to rooftop. When he stops for gas, he jumps out and fills the tank himself; attendants are too slow and don't fill it to the top. The dashboard clock in his Jeep wagon is set ahead 15 minutes so he can be on time for appointments and so that if he lends it out, the Jeep will come back early. In the 4WD vehicle are fishing rods and reels, an assortment of shotguns and rifles, plus enough ammo so that "If we get a war, I'm ready."
The Jeep also has a CB radio and a Fuzzbuster, a radar detection device that puts Andy and the police on relatively even terms. He lives outside Haines City, in central Florida, in an area so quiet that at night you can hear the truck traffic gargling on the four-lane highway five miles away. It is here that he plays his games in the Jeep, jackrabbiting around the county, Fuzzbuster finely tuned, eyes on the rearview mirror, at his side an absolutely terrified passenger, often his wife Debbie. Bean not only knows the local speed traps, but also the cops' home addresses.
Andy Bean might just destroy the pro golf tour someday, flip it over like a big gator, skin it, and take it home and mount it on the wall right next to the two large-mouth bass. He's out there now, stomping around some golf course, fearless, reckless, and nowhere near as good as he's going to be.
"He's awesome long, he's straight, and he can putt," says former Masters and PGA champion Raymond Floyd. And he just keeps getting better. Three years ago, as a rookie, Bean won $10,761 and was 139th on the money list. His friend Steve Maddox calls it "the Year of the Depression." In 1977 Bean won $127,312; last season he finished third on the money list. He doesn't want an agent because he plans on improving his game, then negotiating contracts for really big dollars. He's only 26 years old. It took Tom Watson two years before he won a tour event and another season before he won his first major. "I never hit a bad-looking shot," says Bean, evaluating, not bragging. "I just don't think too good sometimes. If you ask me can I beat Watson, I'm going to say yes. I always think I can beat anybody. That includes Watson, Jack Nicklaus—anybody."
Bean hits the ball a long way. Because he also hits it so straight, his caddie, Ray Medlin, often doesn't bother watching his tee shots. "Why?" shrugs Medlin. "I know he's going to be in the fairway." Bean stands 6'4" and weighs about 215. His hands are huge, rough and reddened. "Gator hands," his wife calls them. Despite his size, and the fact that he grew up on a golf course without sand traps, he has a delicate short game from the time when he used to wear out clubs at a neighborhood par-3 course. Each day he had a chipping contest for lunch with a friend, and he usually ate free. "The way he putts, he'll consistently be in the top five every year," predicts Jerry Pate.
Bean loves the outdoors as much as golf. Last year he flew home on the Mondays after tournaments just so he could fish his secret list of streams and lakes and the phosphate pits that pock the land below Haines City. In the process he tore up his Continental Mark V by using it as an off-road vehicle. When he and his father Tommy went duck hunting shortly before Christmas, he kept on shooting long after he rubbed his middle finger raw. A fishing lure hangs from his key ring, and he cannot pass up a sporting-goods store or a gun shop; it's rare that he gets out of either without spending $100 or so. Bean's collection of rifles and shotguns includes one worth $15,000 that he keeps in a bank vault, and an elephant gun.
"What's it for?" he was asked.
"Shooting elephants," Bean said.
In the first tournament of 1979, the Bob Hope Desert Classic, he demonstrated both his impulsiveness and industriousness. His putting stroke had been impaired by weeks of inactivity, and in the second round Bean four-putted one hole, exasperatedly hitting the final putt left-handed. "I wasn't going to five-putt right-handed," he explained. The next week he putted two hours daily, and in his following two rounds he shot 66s in the Phoenix Open.