Just about anyone would have to concede that Deane Beman was having a mighty pleasant time last week. While folks in Beman's home town of Bethesda, Md. were trying to cope with runny noses and damp feet, there was Deane strolling down the fairways of the Tucson National Golf Club in the bright sunshine with the thermometer in the 70s and the lovely, stark Arizona mountains hovering in the distance. So what if he earned only $360, finishing in a tie for 38th, 11 strokes behind George Knudson, who won his second tournament in a row, Even so, it was better than being in the East in February.
At the age of 29, Beman is just starting his first full year as a professional golfer, and all things considered it is hard to imagine why he ever took so long to do it. Back in 1959 he had demonstrated the kind of golf he could play by winning the British Amateur, and he followed it the next year by winning the U.S. Amateur in St. Louis, a victory he repeated in 1963 at Des Moines. In fact, Beman's stature in golf was such that for eight straight years he represented the U.S. on every amateur team in international matches—the Walker Cup, the Americas Cup and the Eisenhower Trophy—compiling the admirable score of 15 victories, 7 losses and three ties.
No wonder that when Beman finally became a licensed tourist pro last fall everyone predicted a glorious future for him. "He'll make a lot of money out here," Jack Tuthill, the PGA tournament director, was quick to predict. "He may not win too many tournaments, but he'll always be up there, picking up those two and three and four thousand dollar checks. Sort of like Dow Finsterwald used to be when he was going good."
It took Beman only a short time to confirm the forecast. When the season opened at the Crosby in January, up popped Beman in fourth place, only two shots behind the three-way tie for first among Johnny Pott, Billy Casper and Bruce Devlin. Four thousand dollars. Three weeks later at the Hope Classic in Palm Desert, Beman came flying down the stretch with closing rounds of 67-65 to catch the leaders, only to lose a sudden-death playoff to Arnold Palmer. Twelve thousand dollars. Afterward Palmer admitted he didn't feel too badly about robbing Deane of his first tour victory. "Deane will be around a lot longer than I will," Arnie explained, "and he's going to win a lot of tournaments before he's through."
The subject of all this rosy speculation looks and acts more like a promising young insurance executive, which he is, than one of the new golfing tycoons. At 5'7½" and 150 pounds, Beman would be hard to spot among the strong boys of modern golf except for the fact that his ball is usually about 30 yards behind the others. An old-fashioned sun visor casts a shadow over the sharply pointed face with the intensely serious blue eyes. But there is no mistaking the hunched shoulders and the spidery gait, as if he were walking over very thin ice. Later, in the dining room of that motel along the route, the boyish-looking fellow over there in the corner in the dark suit and wearing just about the last of the crew cuts in professional sport, if not the country, is Beman. As the evening wears on, you won't see him laughing it up and telling stories around the bar. He will be back in his room reading the editorials in the local papers, thinking about his golf, filling out his daily log on what clubs he practiced with that day and getting plenty of rest. "I didn't come out here just to be another golfer on the tour," Beman will tell you. "I never have thought of golf as just a game. It was always more than a game to me—even as an amateur."
That, in short, is the key to this young man. A year ago Deane Beman would have been the envy of just about any young American businessman. He was the founder and partner of a thriving insurance agency in Arlington, Va. He had a charming wife who took it in stride if he spent his off days on the golf course instead of clipping the hedges. He had four children he doted on, and he was the kind of local celebrity who got stopped for his autograph often enough to realize he had made his mark on the world. Once a year or more his expenses would be paid for a nice trip abroad to represent his country in some golf matches.
Yet, as Beman tells it now, "I was in constant turmoil. There was this continuous conflict inside me, and I knew it would get worse as time went on. I would sit there at home in the winter watching television, and all the fellows I had played junior golf with and competed against as amateurs would be out in Palm Springs or one of the other tournament towns, and all I could think about was that I had never given myself the opportunity to compete against them on equal terms. When the Masters or the Open rolled around, I was never ready to play my best, and I was never happy when I finished. If I was unhappy with myself now, I knew it would get worse as time went on.
"We all know people who are always talking about what they might have done," Beman continues. "One of the things that kept running through my mind was that I would one day be telling my children what I could have done in golf. It would have worn pretty thin with them."
For more than three years any thoughts that Beman might have entertained about turning pro had been thwarted by a lame wrist. It happened when Deane was practicing for the 1964 Masters on the frozen turf at his home club in Bethesda, and the jarring impact of the club head striking the hard ground injured the tendons at the base of his right hand. Despite the pain, he continued his usual golfing schedule, playing in all the major amateur events with the help of frequent cortisone injections. Although Beman never talked about it publicly, the injury made it impossible for him to hit a decent sand shot or those delicate little chip shots from alongside the green.
Beman now concedes that it was this injury that brought him to disaster in the 1966 Amateur at Merion when he came into the final two holes with a three-stroke lead, yet lost.
A few months later Beman finally found the man who could repair the damage—Dr. Rolla Campbell, a New York surgeon who is the brother of Bill Campbell, a former amateur champion with whom Beman had been playing championship golf for years. After some exploratory surgery, Dr. Campbell rerouted the tendons and ligaments that had caused the trouble. By early 1967 Deane discovered he could once again play all the golf shots without wincing.
With the wrist healed, Beman decided to turn pro, but before doing so, he consulted three important people. "When I reached the Masters," Beman says, "I told my wife. Naturally, she would have preferred me to be home, but she also wanted me to be happy doing what I felt I should do. Then I told my partner, Bill Buppert, that I might, and he told me he thought I should have done it before. I had already accepted an invitation to play in the Walker Cup matches in England in May, so I sat down with Joe Dey of the USGA and told him what I wanted to do, and he was very nice about it and said if that was what I wanted to do then I ought to go ahead. Here I had spent eight or nine years developing a routine and a way of life, and it was all changed in that one day. Very few people embark on a professional golf career with the same obligations—a business, a home, a family, four children and a mortgage."
Very few people embark on a professional golf career with the same kind of game as Deane Beman, either. With the exception of a few superannuated diehards from a previous era who still cling to the tour, Beman is certainly the shortest hitter in big-time golf, a fact that was painfully evident when he lost the sudden-death playoff to Palmer at the Hope Classic. On the deciding hole—a 435-yard 4-par—Deane had to hit a four-wood for his second shot against Palmer's six-iron. Beman willingly admits that on most fairway shots he is anywhere from a half a club to a club and a half shorter than most of the other players. "But that's of my choosing," he adds. "I'm capable of hitting the ball pretty much as far as anyone. It's just that I prefer to hit a little more club and hit it easier, because that way I feel I can get the ball closer to the pin.
"Anybody on the tour can hit a super golf shot," Beman adds. "My plan is not to work on perfecting the beautiful shots but eliminating the bad shots. I don't mean I'll ever stop striving for excellence but not at the expense of control and accuracy. Most players out here generate such terrific club-head speed that when they make a bad swing the ball goes almost as far as with a good one. When I hit it bad, it's short—not behind a tree or under a bush. That short drive of mine doesn't get in too much trouble."
Out on the tour, when the discussion gets around to Deane Beman, it is not his lack of power they talk about but his putting. Bent over his ball on the putting green like a question mark, his battle-scarred Bull's Eye in hand, Beman must be ranked with the finest putters that golf has ever seen. His method is absurdly simple: keep your mind a blank. "All you do," he explains, "is set yourself up the way you plan to stroke the shot and then let your automatic reflexes take over. It's when you're thinking about something and then change your mind at the time of stroking the ball that you get into trouble."
To illustrate, Beman told about his second round at this year's Los Angeles Open when he was struggling through a cold and blustery day with a bad case of flu. "I was just numb," he recalled, "and I played just awful. When I reached the green I was exhausted to the point where I couldn't think of anything. So every time I putted the ball it just seemed to roll right into the cup. I think I only took something like 26 putts."
Finally, there is one quality involved in Beman's golf, something not found in a golf bag, that promises to make him a winner. Joe Dey mentioned it when speaking of Deane recently. "Apart from everything else," said Dey, "he's got character."