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Rich Beem's Hard Road

August 28, 2002, Rich Beem Media Day at the El Paso Country Club: Ten days have passed since the PGA Championship, and Beem has scheduled a solid block of media moments, beginning with a 7 a.m. photo shoot for Sports Illustrated and ending with a live spot for KTSM-TV at 6:23 p.m. I'm on hand for every minute. Over and over Beem offers sound bites to reporters, his professional manner only slightly compromised by a shorts and flip-flops ensemble. Throughout his twelve hours at the club he greets every dishwasher and lawn mower by name, to say nothing of his fellow members. Two days earlier Beem had plunked down $10,000 to become a member of El Paso Country Club—to join the prominent local citizens whose shoes he used to shine. "How it all worked out this way . . . it's just mind-blowing," he says.

In September, Beem began a round-the-world jaunt that took him to the Linde German Masters (where he got a six-figure appearance fee), the WGC-American Express Championship in Ireland, San Antonio for the Valero Texas Open, ESPN studios in Bristol, Connecticut, to shoot a droll SportsCenter commercial and Winged Foot for a big-bucks corporate outing. He was learning a cruel truth about the Tour: The better you play, the more distractions there are to get between you and your game. Says Beem, "How Tiger Woods goes through this every day of his life . . . I have so much more appreciation for what he goes through."

October 5, 2002: I call Beem at home and something unexpected happens. He blows me off. I've spent three-plus years chronicling his exploits, during which we've played golf, attended hockey games, gone shoe shopping, shared countless meals and more than a few drinks. Now, for the first time, he doesn't want to talk. "Call me next Tuesday in Vegas at three o'clock," Beem says. "Sorry, I'm just not doing any more interviews from home. I know it sucks for you, but that's the new policy." He hangs up.

In Las Vegas, at the Invensys Classic, Beem opens with an electric sixty-four, making two back-nine eagles to surge into third place. Of course this means more hullabaloo—interviews, autographs, tournament officials chasing him, asking the PGA champ to glad-hand important sponsors. I try reaching him on his cell phone. Voice mail. I leave a message. Same thing happened two days before, despite our phone date. Same thing happens the next two days. I call Beem's agent and get referred to his press attaché.

Finally my phone rings. "It's Beemer. The only reason I'm calling you is so you'll stop filling up my voice mail." He sounds like he just woke up, though it's late afternoon in Las Vegas. We talk about the demands that have come with his PGA win. "I've stepped into a different world," he says. "Every move I make is scrutinized. I really have to watch myself on the course—how I express my frustration—because I don't want to make an ass of myself. Don't get me wrong, I'm living a dream, but I guess I was totally unprepared for everything that has come with winning the PGA."

Is Beem spreading himself too thin?He will finish seventh on the money list with just under $3 million, but fades to thirty-seventh place that week in Vegas; his best finish in the year's last five official events is twenty-sixth at the thirty-man Tour Championship. Some in Beem's inner circle are starting to worry about his wandering focus. "I've been seeing Rich an awful lot on TV and in the newspapers," says Bill Eschenbrenner, pro emeritus at El Paso Country Club, "but I haven't seen him much on the driving range."


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