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.
March 19, 1979
"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.
Bean is learning from his mistakes. At last year's Houston Open he had a comfortable lead in the final round, then chose the wrong club on the 9th hole, made a double bogey and lost the tournament by one stroke. "That'll never happen again," he told his caddie. And so far it hasn't. Bean won the Kemper, Memphis and Western Opens, then took the Dunlop Masters in Japan. No one ever made the jump in money earnings that he did between his first and second years, and no third-year pro ever won as much. So far in 1979 he has $71,220 and is third on the list. Andy Bean might be getting ready to skin the tour. "I don't know if I'll win eight tournaments," he says. "But I could."
He says this in a forthright manner, looking at you with clear, wide-open eyes. He may be big, but he's not a loud-mouth. In fact, he's sometimes a bit shy, hunching in the almost humble manner of huge people, his head lowered kind of deferentially. He doesn't try to say the right thing but, instead, speaks his mind. Where he is from, ambiguity is despised. After telling a story, Bean will let the facts settle a moment or two, then add, "That's the way that goes."
Despite his relatively short fuse, he is a gentle person, patient with autograph seekers and fond of small children and animals. He estimates he has had 100 deer in his gunsights but has yet to shoot one because he's waiting for a trophy of the proper dimensions. At the British Open he kissed old women on the cheek and gave golf balls to the galleries, and during practice rounds at the Masters he races groups of kids to his ball. One pro-am partner was so taken with his engaging manner that he offered to donate a golf scholarship in Bean's name to Bean's alma mater, the University of Florida, where Buster Bishop, his college coach, often calls upon him to help with fund raising or recruiting. Nelson Cullenward, the golf writer for the San Francisco Examiner, says that when Bean heard he wanted to interview him at the 1977 Tournament of Champions, but was sick in his room, Bean went there to talk to him. "In 43 years of covering golf, he's the first guy ever to do something like that," Cullenward says.
Pate recalls Bean talking him into entering the 1974 Florida Amateur. At the time, Pate lived in Pensacola, a 20-year-old with a lackluster record who never had played in anything as big. Bean not only persuaded him to compete, but he also induced the officials to accept Pate's entry after the deadline and put him up in his parents' home. Pate went on to win the tournament—by one stroke over Bean. "It probably was one of the 10 dumbest things Andy ever did," says Pate. A few months later Pate won the U.S. Amateur. The following year he was low amateur in the U.S. Open and the year after that he won the 1976 Open. Pate will tell you that if he hadn't played in the Florida Amateur, he still might be in Pensacola.
Bean grew up in two different worlds. The first was Jekyll Island, Ga., where at one time the people who controlled one-seventh of the world's disposable income had homes. Or so it was said. Tommy Bean was their pro. The second world was outside Lakeland, Fla., where his father scratched out a living running a broken-down golf course. Mindful of the irony, the elder Bean named it Jekyll-Hyde. Between the millionaires and the sweat, Andy learned that you get back what you put in. Few people practice as hard as he does. And his captivating manner ultimately enabled him to get through the one rough spot in his career, his rookie season when he didn't make enough to pay his motel bills. Roy Mann, a rich glove manufacturer and family friend from Menlo, Ga. bankrolled him for no reward other than friendship.
"That big ol' boy is the reason I'm alive, the reason I can walk," says the 64-year-old Mann. In December 1975 Mann was operated on for cancer. "If it weren't for Andy Bean, I'd be dead. But there was no way I was going to die with Andy going on tour. I told his daddy 14 years ago, 'You train him, and I guarantee that he'll be on the pro tour. If Andy could do this to more people, the doctors would be out of business.' " Bean carries several worn $100 bills in his wallet. Mann has emphysema and isn't supposed to smoke, and every time Bean catches him, it costs Mann $100.
The back of Bean's neck is beginning to show the deep creases that are the badge of honest work in the gunrack country of the rural South. His attitude toward women reflects that heritage. For instance, he liked Susan O'Connor, his partner in the mixed-team championship two years ago, because she used salty language. But he was less pleased with Amy Alcott, his partner last year, because she wouldn't take his advice on reading greens. Around Haines City, if a female can't shoot a gun and whistle in the dogs, she belongs in the kitchen. Thus at dinner time, if Andy is busy oiling a shotgun in the living room, no one dares mention that supper is getting cold on the dining-room table. On the highway, when Debbie nervously points out a car heading toward them at an alarming rate, Andy yells back. "Now, woman! You let me drive. I see the dad gum car!" And if she has the temerity to reach up and straighten the morass of papers and paraphernalia crammed behind the sun visor, her husband says, "Woman, leave that stuff alone! You go messing with it, and I can't find anything."
Debbie is a former airline stewardess, but she never will tell Andy to put his baggage underneath his seat or to fasten his seat belt. He proposed to her in the Atlanta airport on April Fools' Day. Actually, it was more a command than a proposal. When Debbie said she wanted to think it over, Bean said there would be none of that, just go ahead and set a date. They were married last Aug. 30, in the middle of the week so Andy wouldn't have to miss a tournament.
"I guess you might call me lucky," says Debbie, who knew what she was getting into. Andy's mother Marjorie works seven days a week at the Jekyll-Hyde Golf Course but goes home early each day so she can prepare dinner. When her husband gets back, often as not he is exhausted enough to eat in bed. When Andy bought Debbie some flowers during this year's Phoenix Open, Debbie considered the implications. A Bean doesn't often buy his woman flowers. "He either wanted to surprise me," she said, "or he happened to pass a flower stand, or he wants to buy those two shotguns he was looking at."
Debbie is part of something called the Plan, which is Tommy's scenario for Andy's success on the tour. She bought a memory book to help her recall the names of people she meets at the golf course. She says Barbara Nicklaus did that when she and Jack first joined the tour. "They say-Barbara's fabulous," says Debbie. "She never forgets a name."
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.
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."
The car turned down the road leading toward Jekyll-Hyde. The air was cool. The growers would soon be lighting their smudge pots. Tommy would have to be up at sunrise the next morning to water the greens, clearing them of frost. He must have thought of the distant course, and how it was so much of his life. Beside him was his son, who represented the other part of his existence. He had watched both grow from nothing, all part of the Plan.
"You know, Andy," he said, "I think we could make a million dollars when they four-lane this highway in a few years. Property is going to jump in value then." There was only silence. For months Andy had been trying to get his father to sell the course, to retire. Tommy works more than 12 hours a day now. It's too much at his age, but it's hard to let go of something you love. Half of his life is only mementos now. He wants to keep the other half a little longer.
The silence deepened in the car. Tommy chewed on his cigar. Finally, he said, "Guy called from West Palm Beach the other day. Wanted to, know if I would sell. I told him I would."
Andy Bean smiled inwardly and thought, "I'll win that U.S. Open for you, old man."