Rich rewards for man who downed Tiger

 

GOLF: Philip Reid talks to golf's most recent major winner, Rich Beem, who is revelling in his new-found status

The world has started to spin a little bit faster for Rich Beem since his life-changing win in the US PGA championship - but he is the last person you'd expect to ask it to stop so that he can jump off. If not quite a rags to riches story, the American's transformation from journeyman professional to major champion nevertheless requires some self-inflicted pinching. "It's all good stuff, just a little crazier than I am used to," remarked Beem yesterday.

One of the first players to set foot in Mount Juliet for this week's $5.5 million American Express world championship, Beem's presence here is symptomatic of how his US PGA win has changed his life. A year ago, he was 279th in the world. Now, he is up to 22nd - and rising - and, if it can sometimes be hard to keep his feet on the ground, he travels to tournaments with greater expectations than he would previously have had.

"Winning the PGA means that I now get to play in events like this, and I have a really busy schedule to the end of the year. I am getting used to it all, although it sometimes is a bit tough. People expect more out of my golf game than I do. I do feel I can be a bit more competitive (as a result of the PGA). I don't come to every tournament expecting to win but I know I have an opportunity (to win) and, if the opportunity arises, I won't be as nervous as I was in the past probably," said Beem.

However, golf's newest major winner insisted his newfound status wouldn't change him. "If you change," he insisted, "you are in trouble. Just because you win a major doesn't mean you have to change your outlook on life. For instance, I don't like to hit a golf ball after a round. I'm inclined to pack up my gear, grab a drink and go home. That's the same way I was at the PGA. I didn't hit a single ball after a round.

"Golf is what I do for a living. It is not my life. People sometimes forget that - they think to be a major winner you have to eat drink and sleep golf. If I did that, I would go crazy."

Indeed, this was reflected in Beem's priorities yesterday which included contacting Darren Clarke to arrange to play a practice round with him and to have a social pint afterwards. "I first played with Darren in the Bay Hill (on the US Tour) in 2000 and then played with him again in the NEC at Sahalee last month and struck up a friendship with him."

Beem has never outwardly lacked confidence. His play is all about aggression and living off the crowds who react to his outgoing manner. However, holding off the world number one Tiger Woods on the Sunday of a major - as he did at Hazeltine - has proved him to be a player of real quality.

"I think that win is something I can build on. Who knows when it will happen again that I get to hold off Tiger like that but it is nice knowing that I beat world's best player coming down the stretch in a major," said Beem.

The manner of his victory that Sunday was the stuff of dreams. A seven-wood approach over trees into the 11th green to set up eagle and, then, with Woods birdieing the last four holes, Beem knocked in birdies on the 13th and 16th holes to keep his cushion. "When the birdie putt on 16 went in, I pretty much knew the tournament was mine to win or to lose," he said.

One of the benefits of his US PGA win is that he is now in demand for global tournaments, which explained his presence in last week's German Masters in Cologne. Beem, however, missed the cut there and, so, decided to arrive early in Ireland and spent a couple of days in Dublin with his wife Sara.

Beem's early arrival here enabled him to have a look at the All-Ireland camogie final live on television on Sunday. To say he was fascinated by what he saw would be an understatement.

"Those women were unbelievable. And I heard the men are absolutely . . .!" He never did get to finish the sentence as his mind moved on. "I am thinking now that in our American Football we have got a bunch of pansies playing after watching that hurling and everything," he added.

He's in a good part of the country to be appreciative of good stickwork. Ireland's greatest living hurler D J Carey hails from just down the road in Gowran and in nearby Thomastown there is a statute of another famous hurler, Ollie Walsh. Now, it is Beem's turn to show that his ability with a different stick and ball game can also be appreciated.