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Beem back to defend International title

It's been a busy 12 months for Rich Beem.

After winning The International over Steve Lowery last year in a shootout over the final nine holes, Beem stunned the golf world two weeks later by beating world No. 1 Tiger Woods in the final round to win the PGA Championship.

Granted, Beem's first major wasn't nearly the shocker that Ben Curtis pulled off in the British Open. Beem, after all, had won the Kemper Open back in 1999 before winning The International.

Still, the Beemer taking a major was a jolt. This was a guy who had a book written about his 1999 season entitled Bud, Sweat and Tees.

But the Beem of 2002 was far different from the Beem of 1999 when he won the Kemper out of nowhere. And the Beem of 2003 is different from the Beem who won The International last year.

Back in '99 Beem had little to boast of other than a tie for eighth in Qualifying School the previous year. In his first full season, Beem had played in 11 tournaments prior to the Kemper. He missed the cut in seven of them, including five straight before coming to the TPC at Avenel. In 31 rounds that year, he had shot in the 60s four times.

Beem simply didn't factor in when people discussed up-and-coming players on the PGA Tour.

Then Beem shot a 66-67 and followed with 71-70 to win the Kemper.

A high-living, good-time guy, Beem found little additional success in '99 after his win. He played 12 more tournaments that year; he missed the cut in eight of them. He did have a fourth-place showing in the Texas Open, but had difficulty cracking the top 25 in the other three.

In 2000, Beem played in 29 tournaments, missed 16 cuts and withdrew once. His best effort was a tie for 17th in the Reno-Tahoe Open, a secondary event that is held the same week as the World Series of Golf. The $249,881 he earned that season left him 146th spot on the money list.

It appeared as though Beem might be one of those players who wins a tournament and then manages to play his way off the Tour.

Last year, though, Beem was showing signs that he was getting the hang of professional golf and his recent marriage seemed to steady him.

At The International, particularly on Sunday, Beem's golf was as good as it gets, as he ran off seven birdies from the fourth to the 12th holes, then eagled the 17th. It was just enough to hold off Lowery, who tossed in a pitch-in eagle and a double eagle.

Then came the PGA, where Beem, trailing Justin Leonard by three entering the final round, suddenly built a five-shot lead. When Woods birdied the last four holes, the Beemer had won his major a single shot.

Beem said at the PGA that of all the good things that accrue to a major champion, the most important "is a different perspective of myself as a golfer. I think I'm going to have a lot more confidence."

And truthfully, a lot of people wondered if Beem had matured enough to handle his sudden success.

He has proved that he can.

While he hasn't had a great season thus far in 2003, Beem has worked at it. He tied for 10th in the Nissan Open on a tough course, tied for 15th at the Masters and took solo second at the Western Open.

Beem is ranked No. 16 in the world, a pretty lofty perch for a former cellphone salesman and assistant club pro.

"After it was all said and done, I think in a way I might have helped other players or even other events, said, 'hey, listen, if this guy can do it, holy cow, anybody can do it,'" Beem said recently.

"That may not be the case, but certainly it gave a lot more guys insight that said, 'listen, you don't have to be a top-five in the world to contend in a major.' Anybody can do it. And I'm proof of that. So I think I probably in some ways inspired some guys a little bit. And I surprised myself quite a bit."

It's been a pleasant surprise for everybody.


 

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