Last week at the Kemper Open, destiny called Rich Beem, and
Beem, a 28-year-old Tour rookie and onetime cellular-phone
salesman, recognized the ring. "A couple of them were Motorolas,
for sure," he said. "I think a couple of them were Nokias." It
was during Beem's wild third round, when he made three bogeys, a
double bogey and five birdies to hang on to a piece of the lead,
that he was repeatedly serenaded by bleating cell phones from
the gallery. It was poignant music, a reminder of a fate that
could easily have befallen him. In September 1995, tired of the
mini-tour grind, Beem mothballed his clubs and moved to Seattle
with a woman he now calls his "very ex-fiancee." It was there
that he did eight months of hard time hawking cells at Magnolia
Hi-Fi in suburban Bellevue. He couldn't get back on the golf
course fast enough.
Beem lit out of Seattle in May 1996 without a dollar in the
bank--and sans fiancee--and took 2 1/2 years to scrape up the
money and the courage to go through Q school last fall, where he
tied for eighth to earn his card. When he joined the Tour in
January, he could hardly have been more of a greenhorn. Since
turning pro in 1994, he had never even played in a Nike tour
event, let alone in the bigs. As Beem headed into the Kemper,
things were going about as expected. He had missed five straight
cuts, dating back to mid-March, and was 202nd on the money list
with a meager $24,590. A few days before the tournament, a funny
thing happened. Beem's phone (a Motorola) rang. It was Steve
Duplantis, who for 4 1/2 years had been the goateed sidekick to
Jim Furyk until being jilted in favor of Fluff Cowan, Tiger
Woods's ex, following the Players Championship.
Duplantis, a friend of a friend of Beem's, had a rep for chronic
tardiness and was having trouble finding a regular loop.
Likewise, Beem hadn't been able to persuade any caddie to stick
around for more than a couple of weeks. He and Duplantis clung
to each other like survivors on a life raft. After a Tuesday
practice round at the testy TPC of Avenel in Potomac, Md.,
during which Beem smote one shot after another, the no-nonsense
Duplantis told him, "I can't f------ believe you've made only 24
grand this year!" Beem hit it even better the next day, and
again Duplantis spent the round whispering sweet nothings in his
It wasn't that Beem couldn't play--he just needed someone to
remind him that he could. Beem had grown up under the watchful
eye of his father, Larry, a club pro in Las Cruces, N.Mex., who
helped Rich fashion a smooth, powerful swing. Rich had a solid
career at New Mexico State and on various mini-tours.
Post-Seattle he landed a job in the pro shop at El Paso Country
Club, home to Tour veteran J.P. Hayes and a bunch of other
gunslingers who like to engage in big-money shootouts. Beem more
than held his own. When he opened the Kemper with a 66 to take
the lead, Duplantis told him, "That was no fluke." Beem couldn't
help but act as if it had been. Following the round, he held
forth at the funniest Tour press conference since Lee Trevino
debuted as the Merry Mex at the '68 U.S. Open.
June 6, 1999
Beem, on his career aspirations: "What I'm trying to do is make
enough money so I can dump more of it into my truck. My hobby, my
passion, is my stereo. I've got a kicker, subwoofers,
sound-stream amplifiers, tweeters, mids, sixes.... It's kind of
fun to pull up to the low riders in El Paso who are playing all
the jams and put in Van Halen, crank it up and blow 'em away."
On his hobbies as listed in the Tour media guide: "I wrote on my
bio that I ski and fish. I don't think I've been skiing in about
15 years, and I haven't picked up a fishing pole in 20. I just
had to make up something."
On how to get to El Paso: "Turn left to nowhere. Go 20 miles."
On how he would sleep as the overnight leader: "Probably on my
But seriously, folks, Beem gave Duplantis much of the credit for
his strong play, saying, "My hat is off to him, big time."
Those were words Duplantis needed to hear. "I was really
surprised by the number of guys who shied away from me," he
says. "It hurt my feelings." After two months without so much as
a nibble, Duplantis had been seriously considering another line
of work. "It was almost full-scale panic time," he says. "I've
got to take care of my daughter. I've got a mortgage, power
bills, car payments."
Who knew that beneath this Gen X visage was a stressed-out single
dad? Since September 1997 Duplantis, 26, has had full custody of
his three-year-old daughter, Sierra, and she travels with him
nearly every week. Unlike the millionaires they pack for, Tour
caddies have no organized day care. To top it all off, Duplantis
is in the middle of unpleasant divorce proceedings. He doesn't
deny that he was sometimes late to shag balls for Furyk, but he
had his reasons, O.K.?
On Friday, Beem shot a 67 to take a three-stroke lead. He opened
with three birdies in the first five holes, bogeyed the 6th and
then three-putted the 7th and made a double. "I told him that a
lot of guys make double bogey out here," says Duplantis. "The
big boys always come back with a birdie." On his approach to the
par-4 8th, Beem ripped an eight-iron from 165 yards that was, he
said, "eatin' fiber all the way." Eatin' fiber? "The flagsticks
are made out of fiberglass," Beem said during another of his
lunatic postround press conferences. "At least, I think they
are." His approach stopped five feet from the hole. Birdie--and
instant promotion to the ranks of Big Boy. He made four more
birds (and a bogey) on the back nine, during which he set an
unofficial Tour record for fist-pumping. "On 17 [after making a
25-foot snake for birdie] I did it so hard I gave myself a
little head rush," he said.
Two days into the Kemper, Beem was the toast of the town. He had
endeared himself to the fans with his aw-shucks enthusiasm, and
reporters couldn't get enough of his sardonic shtick. Asked on
Friday what a victory--and the $450,000 winner's check--would
mean to him, a beaming Beem said, "Bigger truck, more stuff."
This was pretty rich, considering that before the Kemper his
foremost distinction was winning last year's assistant's
championship in his PGA section. Beem's insouciance was in part
a defense mechanism. He knew that weekends are generally not
kind to rookies. No freshmen won on Tour last year, and the two
rookies who had led at the halfway mark in '99, Rory Sabbitini
at the BellSouth and Eric Booker at the Honda and in New
Orleans, both self-immolated on Sunday. (Carlos Franco, the
34-year-old globetrotter from Paraguay, was, technically, a Tour
rookie when he won the New Orleans event but has played too long
to count as one.)
Beem, however, had a secret weapon. On Friday night he coaxed
David Wyatt, one of his best friends and former cellmate at
Magnolia Hi-Fi, onto a red-eye from Seattle, and Wyatt was a
visible--and voluble--presence in Beem's gallery on Saturday. Good
thing, too, because Beem needed all the support he could get.
Playing in front of the largest galleries of the relatively
starless field, Beem came out hitting the ball sideways, taking
bogeys at numbers 2 and 3. Typically, he rebounded with three
straight birdies on the 4th through 6th holes. Another tweeter on
10 pushed him to 11 under and into a commanding four-stroke lead.
Then he took his obligatory double bogey at 12, after which his
putter went AWOL. A couple more bogeys followed, dropping him to
eight under and, for the first time in the tournament, out of the
For the week, 44 players hit it farther off the tee and 47 hit
more greens in regulation, but Beem led the field in grit. He
summoned one last birdie on Saturday, at the 18th, to tie Tommy
Armour III for the lead and earn a spot in the final twosome on
Sunday. Beem's volatile play was attributable to aggressiveness,
inconsistency and a progressive attitude. "I don't discriminate
against any number," he said after the round. "Five, six,
seven--I'll take 'em all."
The giddiness began to wear off on Saturday night, when Beem
couldn't eat. From the time he woke up on Sunday morning, his
legs felt like jelly, and the only things he could keep down
before his 1:45 tee time were a cup of coffee and a muffin.
Well, there was a little something else. "I got some
Pepto-Bismol and hid it in my pocket," Beem says. "I went into a
stall [in the locker room] to take a couple big chugs so nobody
would see how nervous I was. That calmed me a little bit."
What calmed the butterflies even more was Beem's putt on the 1st
hole--a 35-foot twister that he was just trying to lag close. It
dived into the cup for a birdie. Beem couldn't resist winking at
Wyatt, who wore Beem's lucky blue shirt and Chicago Cubs cap.
With Duplantis leading him around like a wet nurse, Beem birdied
the 3rd and 5th holes, and his lead was four by the turn. He
still led by three strokes when he reached the watery par-5 13th.
Beem tried to lay up with his second shot but hit it into the
water and made bogey. Coming off the green, Duplantis made the
best read of the tournament. Seeing how spent his man was, he
made Beem eat a Nutri-Bar.
Pars the rest of the way brought Beem to the 18th with a
two-stroke lead, and he made a mostly stress-free bogey for the
victory. Following the winning putt, he rushed to the ropes to
share sloppy, teary hugs with his girlfriend, Amy Onick, and
Wyatt. On the other side of the green Duplantis, too, was wiping
away tears. "It's redemption for me, for sure," he said.
"Hopefully the people who have been bad-mouthing me the last
couple of months will see I'm still a pretty good caddie."
Before doing any interviews, Beem grabbed his Motorola and placed
a call to the grillroom at El Paso CC. He wanted to buy the next
round. In fact, Beem couldn't part with his newfound riches fast
enough. He was already going on about a new sound system for his
truck, maybe adding a Porsche Boxster to the fleet and definitely
upgrading to first class on the flight home. When he talked about
what the victory meant for his family and his future, he got
teary again, as did Wyatt, who may not have been as instrumental
as Duplantis was but certainly played a part. He had slipped Beem
a good luck charm. It was a pilfered employee ID from Magnolia
Hi-Fi. Just another little reminder of Beem's old life, the one
that now seemed very far away.
Says Beem, "I went into a stall to take a couple big chugs [of
Pepto-Bismol] so nobody would see how nervous I was."
"I was really surprised by the number of guys who shied away from
me," says Duplantis. "It hurt my feelings."