SPRINGFIELD, N.J. – You had to make your own weather at the rainy 98th PGA Championship. Amid the copious negativity surrounding the stormy weather and the PGA of America’s handling of it, you had to look for the positives.
You had to look for Rich Beem, Sky Sports TV announcer and part-time golfer.
“That was fun,” Beem said with a laugh after firing a final-round 71 on Sunday to finish four over for the tournament. “I haven’t played this much golf in I can’t tell you how long. My left shoulder’s bothering me, and my legs are kinda going dead.”
Which was ironic, because for a while Beem was the life of the party as intrepid New Jersey sports fans, beers in hand, braved the elements and cheered loudly.
“I’ve been looking at those Coors Light tall boys all day and salivating,” Beem said. “I’m heading back upstairs. I’m going to change shirts, put on some Gortex shoes, have a bite to eat, and I am going to have a beer before I go out on the golf course because I damn sure earned it. My boss, I’d think, will understand.”
The 2016 Year in Golf has been many things, most of all surprising and disjointed thanks to the first-time major winners and the play and comments of Rory McIlroy. But you wouldn’t call it fun, especially not at the stormy U.S. Open, marred by a Rules controversy, or the PGA’s Saturday washout. Sunday’s Beem/Balty merger was fun.
More than a decade removed from his prime, Beem, 45, is a TV golf analyst more than a touring golfer. But he came to Baltusrol with a sliver of hope. He’d filled his bag with new clubs. (More on that later.) He’d busted out his old Bullseye putter. And on a trip to Skibo Castle in Scotland he’d gotten a tip to widen his swing. It worked. His wife’s uncle, an orthopedic surgeon, treated his shoulder tendinitis. That worked, too.
Then he toured Baltusrol and saw something he liked. “I played a couple practice rounds and thought, you know, the fairways are generous enough,” he said. “I feel like I can hit it to certain spots. I knew I was going to have a lot of long irons and hybrids.”
Hardly anyone was following Beem and playing partner Francesco Molinari of Italy as they played the final round in the rain Sunday. Molinari kept strafing the pins but missing his birdie putts, shades of Rory, while Beem scraped out pars despite hitting hybrid into many par 4s. But at the 5th hole fate brought them some fans.
Jason Day’s group was finishing up at the adjoining 18th hole, so several fans, looking for something else to do, peeled off to watch Beem and Molinari. They were handsomely rewarded as Beem lost his 5-iron approach to the right of the green, short-siding himself, and waded into the throng to appraise his terrible lie in the mud.
“I’m looking at the rules official there, but where am I gonna drop?” Beem said. “There’s no good option. I said it out loud: ‘If I’m gonna hit it here, I’m gonna play it.’ I don’t know. I can’t say I had a good feeling about it, but I had a decent feeling about it.”
If I’m gonna hit it here, I’m gonna play it. When was the last time you heard a Tour pro say something so imminently sensible? When was the last time a pro invoked common sense instead of some byzantine bylaw from the Rules of Golf?
By now you’ve no doubt seen that Beem made the shot, those intrepid Jersey fans erupting as Beem thrust his arms in the air and screamed with them, the entire happy mosh pit providing a much needed reprieve from the dreary weather.
“I just embraced it with them,” Beem said with a laugh. “It was a lot of fun.”
In that moment you could not find a guy who was happier to be playing Balty than Beem, not even the new folk hero Andrew “Beef” Johnston. Beem has no status on any tour; he came here with a lightweight carry bag but no tour bag, a few endorsements but—many assumed—no hope of making it to the weekend. He didn’t even have a caddie until Jersey’s own Joe Damiano, a veteran looper, volunteered for the job.
Oh, and when Beem scored a new set of PXG clubs before the PGA, he had to pay for them. Alas, when the company rep tried to bill his credit card for $2,800, the charge was rejected. His credit card was maxed out. Eventually PXG told Beem he would be taken care of, including that big PXG umbrella he toted around the course Sunday, and he professed his eternal gratitude for not having to explain the charge to his wife.
In that moment you couldn’t find more of an everyman than Beem.
“Well, yes and no,” he said afterward, when asked if he’d surprised himself. “I still know my limitations. When I go out there this afternoon [for Sky Sports] and watch these guys pound it about 320 in the rain and the mist, it’s just a different ballgame. It’s like being a one-legged man in a butt-kickin’ contest. I wore out that hybrid today.”
Beem will turn 46 on Aug. 24, and yes, he’s eying the big 5-0, when he’ll be eligible for the Champions Tour. Until then, he says, he’ll be keeping his day job while indulging in only a handful of what he calls “hit-and-giggle events” each off-season.
If his latest hit-and-giggle with the best players in the world turns out to be his last, so be it. Beem, PXG, Damiano, an old Bullseye putter and perhaps the ghost of Baltus Roll brought the noise and some sorely needed sunshine in the rain.