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The Toughest Chip

Chip Beck, who used to be somebody in golf, is riding his stationary bike as he talks to you. He does not sound at all like someone riding in place no matter how hard he pushes himself, getting nowhere as he chases the dream of being what he once was—somebody who could shoot a fifty-nine, take home the 1988 Vardon Trophy and win a singles match that put his country over the top at the 1993 Ryder Cup. He will not plead guilty to being another forty-something golfer missing cuts and killing time until he turns fifty and gets out on the Champions Tour—if there is a Champions Tour by then—gets out there with a chance to be somebody again.

"If I quit now," Beck says, "I truly believe people would remember me for the positives. For shooting that fifty-nine. For winning the Vardon. For the way I've conducted myself, playing a game that I love. But I'm not quitting. Because I still love the game."

Chip Beck had it. Then he lost it. That has happened to a lot of people in a lot of sports. It didn't happen to Beck the way it did to Ian Baker-Finch, who won the British Open and then kept changing his swing, trying to get longer, until finally he couldn't play at all. It didn't happen to him the way it happened to an old Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher named Steve Blass, who was once a World Series star and then woke up one day and couldn't throw the ball near home plate. But by the late 1990s Beck, who had won four times on the PGA Tour and played on three Ryder Cup teams and made thirteen birdies and no bogeys one day in 1991 at the Sunrise Golf Club in Las Vegas, had lost enough of his swing and enough of his nerve that he missed forty-seven cuts in a row.

He doesn't want to be remembered for losing it. Or for laying up when he had a chance to win the 1993 Masters. Ten years ago this spring, Beck was three strokes behind with four holes to play at Augusta. At the par-five fifteenth, 236 yards from the flag, he laid up rather than risk getting wet by going for the green in two. "The layup was a smart decision, the only one I could have made," he says. "Having a chance to win the Masters was a great accomplishment, because Augusta National doesn't favor the kind of low ball flight I had then. I modified my game for the tournament. Bernhard Langer had some breaks go his way in Amen Corner and he won, but I'm satisfied with what I did."

He talks about a closed clubface and how he had to arch his back to get the ball in the air and the strain that put on his back. He talks about being a short hitter and then getting shorter and missing fairways and . . .

You don't want to hear the litany. It is like listening to someone take you through a bad round, shot by shot.

"I became a defensive golfer," he says now. "You can't play on the PGA Tour doing that."

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