Within a month Tonya Thie had given back her engagement ring. "They just didn't understand each other," said Larry Beem. Tonya found another man, and Rich was devastated; he and Wyatt drove to the shore and forlornly pumped hundreds of range balls into Puget Sound.
Bereft, Beem used his father's connections to land a job as an assistant pro at El Paso Country Club. "I needed a place to hang my hat," Beem says. "I had absolutely noooo dreams of going out on Tour. All I wanted was to get my Class A PGA membership so I might have some decent job prospects [as a head pro at a country club]. That was the dream. I felt like my playing days were over."
But he warmed to the competitive vibe at the club, which each Wednesday and Friday hosts big-money games between members and a few local touring pros. Beem had come back from the Dakotas Tour a better ball striker, but his course management was scattershot. "He was aggressive to the point of reckless," says Cameron Doan, the EPCC pro who hired Beem and is still his swing coach, "and he took his lumps in the games around the club."
For all his stubbornness, Beem couldn't help learning from PGA Tour standout J. P. Hayes and other veterans of those El Paso money games. And in the spring of 1998 Beem tore through a series of regional tournaments, winning five in a row. "That was fun," he says. "Of course, the more success I had, the more I wanted to get the hell out of the pro shop."
So he quit his country-club job and rolled through all three stages of the PGA Tour's 1998 qualifying tournament. At twenty-eight he was finally—and suddenly—a rookie in the big leagues. Less than a year later he would be something even better: the 1999 Kemper Open champion.
May 2000, Morton's Steakhouse, Scottsdale: The Kemper Open champ is obviously enjoying the benefits of a Tour victory. As Beem works on his third Jack and Coke—"single-barreled, for extra smoothness"—his smile is as dazzling as the pearl face on his new Rolex. He drove up in a new drop-top BMW—the Beemer's Beemer—and his rented condo in the plush Grayhawk development has been turned into a bachelor pad with a home theater, a new pool table and a Sub-Zero filled with beer. Paying equal attention to the New York strip on his plate and the tiny chrome-plated cell phone in his hand, Beem talks candidly about his career to date. "I'm a two-week wonder and I have no problem with that," he says, alluding to the Kemper Open and a subsequent fourth-place finish at the Westin Texas Open. "Shit, 90 percent of the guys on Tour would take the two weeks I had last year. And I'd take two more like that every year for the rest of my life." Spearing a mound of sautéed mushrooms, he adds, "I'd like to put together another hot streak and buy a Porsche."
His Kemper win bought Beem two years of grace—a two-year exemption to the PGA Tour. They turned out to be two years of transition. Downward transition. His partying became the stuff of legend—a DUI at the '99 British Open was only his most publicized misadventure. The hangover lasted through the 2000 season.