JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) – One of the perks Rich Beem received for winning the 2002 PGA Championship at Hazeltine was a 10-year exemption on the European Tour.
He never used it because he didn't need it – until now.
Beem's only status on the PGA Tour is as a past champion, and sponsor exemptions have been limited. In the last year of his exemption in Europe, he took up membership and is having more fun than he imagined.
“Every year, my agent asked me if I wanted to use my exemption,'' Beem said Tuesday from his home in Austin, Texas, where he had a week off before leaving for Spain. “I didn't have a use for it. I was exempt over here, I wanted to be over here. I wish now I had taken a harder look at it, because I've played some amazing courses and I've loved every minute of it.''
The results could use some work.
Beem missed the cut in his first three events – the Joburg Open, Andalucia Open and the Hassan Trophy in Morocco – before he tied for 11th two weeks ago in Italy at the Sicilian Open. He plays the Spanish Open next week, then gears up for a monster schedule – seven tournaments in eight weeks in which he will play in England, Wales, Sweden, Germany, Ireland, France and Scotland.
He would rather be in America on the PGA Tour for the obvious reasons.
“At the end of the day, you look at what's more convenient and where the money is,'' he said. “But I love it on the European Tour. It's been nothing short of fantastic.''
There have been some adjustments.
The events he has played in continental Europe are not among the top events, and thus the galleries have been a bit sparse.
“I saw more people Tuesday in Hilton Head than the entire two weeks in Europe,'' he said. “That's no knock on them. The places we played were great, but it's hard to get to them. And there are adjustments with the travel. It's not like hopping on Southwest Airlines. When guys miss the cut, they tend to stick around for a couple of days. Over here, we spend $100 on a change fee and go home.''
He figures that will change when Europe gets to the meat of its schedule this summer, and every tournament is no more than a short flight from London.
Beem isn't sure where this will lead. The worst-case scenario is that he tries to go through two stages of PGA Tour qualifying school and tries to get his card back. Or, he could play great and work his way back toward the top 50 in the world.
His last trip was two weeks. The next one will be a one-week stay in Spain. Beem was intending to play the following week at Madeira Island in Portugal until word of the airport made him skeptical.
“They said, `If you land on the first try, it's a mistake.' And I said, `You know what, I think I'll come home that week,''' he said.
CHINA EVENT: The PGA Tour's tournament in Malaysia was trumped last year by a special event called the Shanghai Masters, which offered a $5 million purse with $2 million to the winner. It attracted a strong field, including Hunter Mahan and Jim Furyk from the PGA Tour, and Rory McIlroy wound up beating Anthony Kim in a playoff.
Now, it's an official tournament on the European Tour.
It will be called the BMW Masters, played Oct. 25-28 at Lake Malaren in Shanghai and offering a $7 million purse for the 78-man field. It again will be held opposite the Asia Pacific Classic in Malaysia, which last year featured a $6.1 million purse but does not count as an official win on the tour.
The HSBC Champions will be the following week, moving this year from Shanghai to Mission Hills in Shenzhen.
“I'm already looking forward to tee off,'' McIlroy said. “Thanks to the involvement of BMW, the tournament will now be one of the very best events in the world. That obviously makes it all the more exciting to defend my title there.''
It will be the fourth tournament sponsored by BMW – three on the European Tour, one in America.
AMAZING GRACE: Branden Grace started the year at No. 271 in the world, fresh off getting his European Tour card through qualifying school. Four months later, he already is a three-time winner.
“If I think back now to last year and playing on the Challenge Tour and just trying to get back to the main tour and really just trying to make a living, it was tough at points,'' Grace said. “So to be here with three wins is amazing. I wouldn't have thought I would have been top 70 in the world.''
The 23-year-old from South Africa is only the second player in European Tour history to win three times in the season after Q-school. The other was Johan Edfors in 2006. Grace joined even more exclusive company. Only two other players have won three times in one season at a younger age – Seve Ballesteros (three times) and Sandy Lyle.
U.S. OPEN MEMORIES: Matt Kuchar returns to The Olympic Club in June for the U.S. Open, where in 1998 he tied for 14th. Kuchar turned 20 during the final round, so it would seem a return to Olympic would bring back warm memories.
Then again, this is the U.S. Open.
“I can remember walking off the course at Olympic Club and just being dead tired after my rounds at the U.S. Open,'' Kuchar said. “And I remember my rounds at the Masters feeling like I was walking on clouds, feeling like I had so much fun I didn't want the round to end. At Olympic Club, I was more, `Boy, I'm glad this round is over with. I don't know if I can take any more punishment.'''
Kuchar has not been on the Lake Course since 1998, even though he has been to San Francisco numerous times. The one time he tried to go to Olympic, the course was being renovated for the U.S. Open. He has no plans to see the course before the next major.
DIVOTS: Jack Nicklaus is getting own drink. Arizona Beverages has created a partnership with Nicklaus to produce a new line of lemonade drinks called “Golden Bear.'' The line will feature three flavors – regular lemonade with honey and ginseng; mango lemonade and strawberry lemonade. … David Duval made his first cut of the year on the PGA Tour at the Texas Open. He had missed the cut in his opening seven tournaments. … Frank Lickliter tied for 13th at the Texas Open, his highest finish on the PGA Tour since he tied for 13th in the 2008 Byron Nelson Championship, a span of 56 tournaments and nearly four years. … Despite good weather, the Texas Open featured a two-tee start in the final round because the TPC San Antonio was playing difficult and officials were not sure how long it would take to finish. Ben Curtis holed the winning putt at 6:02 p.m. EDT. … The Humana Challenge produced more than $2 million in charitable proceeds, while the Humana Foundation contributed an additional $500,000 from its “Walkit Challenge'' program.
STAT OF THE WEEK: Sean O'Hair leads the PGA Tour career money list among players under 30. He has made $16.2 million. O'Hair turns 30 in July.
FINAL WORD: “Some people take a big leap forward, but slowly going forward is not a bad idea.'' – Bubba Watson.