Summer 2002: Beem's El Paso mentor J. P. Hayes wins the John Deere Classic. After Hayes's victory I call Beem, who is in Colorado preparing for The International. "Watching J. P. win today has got me super fired up," he says. "My game is on the verge of exploding."
A week later, in one of the year's best final rounds, Beem made seven birdies and an eagle at Castle Pines, then sweated out a furious rally by Steve Lowery. He was a winner again. The next week, El Paso Country Club threw a party for Beem and Hayes, and Beem buttonholed his swing coach, club pro Doan. "Rich told me he never thought he could win on that good a course, against such a strong field," Doan says. "He said, "This off-season I want us to figure out how to contend in major championships.' I said, "Shoot, why not go to the PGA next week and let it rip?You might beat 'em all again.'"
We all know what happened next. With four holes to go on Sunday at the PGA Championship at Hazeltine National, Tiger Woods found himself five shots behind an upstart named Rich Beem. He told his caddie, "If we birdie in, we'll win. Let's just suck it up and get it done." And Woods did birdie in, but then Beem drained a curling thirty-five-foot birdie on sixteen that was arguably the putt of the year. It was the climax to four days in which a blazing putter and mesmerizing insouciance turned Beem into an instant folk hero, the first man to hang a runner-up finish on Woods in a major.
"He just went out and played great," Woods said. "That's awfully impressive—to shoot a round like that when he absolutely has to do it." Then Tiger hinted that Beem may have been out of his element. "Sometimes," he said, "it might be a benefit to be a little naive."
Naive or not, Beem was the PGA champ. After the final round he flew to Seattle to prepare for the WGC-NEC Invitational, bringing his journey from cell-phone salesman to golf royalty full circle. "Rich got back about 12:30 that night, and I was the only one there to meet him," Wyatt says. "He walked into the terminal wearing the biggest shit-eating grin I've ever seen. We just started hugging and crying. We stayed up all night, just giggling. I mean, are you kidding?A few years earlier I was with him at Taylor Creek, when he was rediscovering golf. Now he's the PGA champ, with a big ol' shiny trophy and a check for a million bucks in his pocket. Come on—who's writing this stuff?"
That week, Beem took a crew of friends and family members to the swank Metropolitan Grill in downtown Seattle for his thirty-second birthday. "Rich shows up in nice slacks, a nice shirt . . . and flip-flops," says Wyatt. "He jumps behind the bar and starts mixing drinks, chatting up customers. I finally had to drag him out of there—he would have been making Jack and Cokes all night."
Wyatt pauses: "I guarantee Tiger Woods never enjoyed any of his majors like Rich is going to enjoy the PGA."