Beem's decision allows Poulter to keep European Tour card
Rich Beem agreed Tuesday to give his spot in the Hong Kong Open to a player who would otherwise have lost his European Tour membership and been ineligible to play in the Ryder Cup next year. Under those circumstances, he said he would have made that sacrifice for any player.
Even if that player was Ian Poulter.
''I'm not looking to gain anything from this,'' Beem told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. ''I looked at it in the simplest terms. There's a guy who loses his tour membership if I don't step away. Is it anymore awkward because it's Ian Poulter? I don't know and I don't care. It was the right thing to do.''
Poulter has to play a minimum 13 events on the European Tour to keep his membership and be eligible for the Ryder Cup, where he has compiled a 12-4-2 record and was largely responsible for two of the last three European wins.
The Englishman was counting on playing the HSBC Champions in Shanghai in two weeks. But with Andy Sullivan and Emiliano Grillo winning tournaments last week, they moved into the top 50 and bumped Poulter to No. 51, and he was out of the World Golf Championship event in China.
He did not enter the Hong Kong Open, and all the sponsor exemptions were taken.
That's when the European Tour went to Beem and asked him if he were interested in giving his exemption to Poulter. Beem said a tour official called him Monday night when he was asleep after the long flight from Texas, and only after making a few phone calls did he appreciate what Poulter was facing.
''At the end of the day, I was their obvious choice,'' Beem said. ''I wasn't going to say `no' and be a jerk. It was a situation where the right thing needed to happen. And this was the right thing.''
Beem, who won the 2002 PGA Championship at Hazeltine, spent most of the year working as an analyst for Sky Sport. He said the Hong Kong Golf Club is among his favorite in the world, and he talked his family into taking one more trip, tapping into his airline miles to get a ticket.
''I want to play in the worst way,'' Beem said. ''But there were no other options, and I'm not going to keep a guy from losing all his status and not be eligible for the Ryder Cup. So I stepped aside. I didn't think twice about it or ask for huge demands.''
Poulter scrambled to get a visa for Hong Kong, which arrived Tuesday morning about two hours before his flight to New York to make a connection to Hong Kong. He was not due to arrive until Wednesday afternoon, and he planned to hire a local caddie because his caddie is on vacation.
Poulter went on Twitter to thank Beem for giving up the invitation, adding, ''Where would you like me to take you for dinner?''
''Are we talking about dinner every day in 2016?'' Beem said with a laugh. ''I kind of saved you here, pards.''
Poulter can be a lightning rod for the U.S. fans and even some players for being outspoken, talking about his collection of Ferrari's or making so many putts, especially in the Ryder Cup. His five straight birdies in a fourballs match Saturday night at Medinah led to Europe's record-tying comeback in 2012.
''I kind of jokingly thought, `Maybe I should call Capt. (Davis) Love to see what I should do,'' Beem said. ''He's totally wrecked us with his putting.''
Beem is sticking around Hong Kong to work for the European Tour Productions commentary team. He spent 27 weeks this year for Sky Sports, and his last full season on the PGA Tour was in 2012. But the 45-year-old Beem wanted to play Hong Kong, and tournament sponsor UBS gave him a spot.
''I still enjoy playing competitively, I really like this golf course and I came over to compete,'' Beem said. ''It does sting coming halfway around the world. But it's not my nature to step in someone's way to screw them over. I have no desire to that. Let him play.''
Beem said all he wanted in return was a spot in the Hong Kong Open next year. His phone was filled with text messages when he woke up Wednesday morning in Hong Kong, and he wasn't looking forward to what he described as an awkward meeting with Poulter.
''Now if he wants to give me one of his red Ferrari's for Christmas ... not that I'm asking for one,'' Beem said with a laugh.