Thursday, August 13, 2009

Beem ready to face longer course than in 2002 PGA

Hazeltine National Golf Club is a storied venue for major championships.
Before this week's PGA Championship, the club has hosted six major championships. The most recent was the 2002 PGA Championship, won by Rich Beem. It also will serve as host to the 2016 Ryder Cup.
I had the pleasure of sitting with Beem at Tuesday night's past champions dinner. In 2002, he had a five-shot lead with four holes to play and held off a hard-charging Tiger Woods, who finished with four straight birdies.
"It was crazy," Beem said. "I was up by four with five to go, and Tiger went crazy down the stretch with those four birdies. I was able to bogey number 18 and win by a shot."
Beem is typical in some ways of recent major championship winners like Ben Curtis, Shaun Micheel, Todd Hamilton and Mark Brooks, who leave their legacy as winners of golf's most prestigious prizes, rather than like Bob Mays and Chris DiMarco, who had near misses in majors.
Beem is an interesting character. He grew up near Las Cruces, N.M., and attended New Mexico State University on a golf scholarship. According to Beem, he really wasn't recruited by anybody else, and the local university was his best choice.
His father was a pharmacist who decided to make a career change and become a PGA professional.
"That probably was not a smart move," Beem said with a laugh. "But he loved golf, and he is now a life member of the PGA. My dad influenced my career more than anyone."
When asked to compare the Hazeltine of 2009 to that of the venue where he won in 2002, the answer was pretty simple.
"It's about 400 yards longer," Beem said, "and I am seven years older."
Much already has been written about Hazeltine's length for this championship. There are four par-5 holes which average 613 yards in length. This tournament features the longest par-5 in the history of the PGA Championship, No. 15, which is 642 yards long.
If that is not enough, throw in No. 13, a 248-yard par-3 and the longest of its kind in PGA Championship history. Sand-wiched in between is No. 14, a 352-yard par-4 that can be adjusted to see its green driven with a forward tee placement.
Kerry Haigh, director of championships for the PGA of America, has many tricks available this week.
The weather forecast is for temperatures in the low 90s by week's end, with winds in excess of 20 mph. Conditions should get hard and fast, which will minimize the 7,674 yards ahead of the best field in golf.
To date, 98 of the top 100 players in the world are competing at Hazeltine. Only Trevor Immelman and Robert Karlsson will miss due to injury.
Practice round crowds have been fantastic, with more than 25,000 in attendance each of the first two days. Minneapolis traditionally has been one of golf's strongest markets, and expectations are high for record weekend crowds.
Studies have shown that 27 percent of the households in the Twin Cities metro area have a golf presence. That is a phenomenal number.
The official hotel of the PGA of America is the Sofitel, about 30 minutes from the golf course. Many of the players are staying there.
Private housing is another option during the week of a major. Beem said, "I usually stay at a hotel for the affordability, but this week was an exception."
One of Beem's perks for winning the 2002 PGA was receiving a lifetime membership presented to him by the members of Hazeltine in 2003. His relationship with the club has grown, and it now includes an annual interclub match between the El Paso Country Club, Beem's home club in Texas, and Hazeltine, his new club.
"That has been a blast," he said. "I hand-picked my team from El Paso, so I didn't bring any guys from El Paso that would embarrass me."
Beem shot 10-under par when he won at Hazeltine in 2002. When asked for a prediction on this year's winning score, he replied, "I think it will be in the same ballpark. Things will dry out here, and guys will still post some scores even with the length of the course. The rough is gnarly in spots but manageable in others."
Beem is paired in rounds 1 and 2 with Padraig Harrington, the defending champion, and Tiger Woods. At the champions dinner, he offered his two challengers a warning.
"I want you guys to know that I have a lot of friends here now," he said. "The crowd will be really pulling for me. I hope it doesn't distract you."
Privately, Beem confided to me, "I would much rather be playing with Tiger than in front of him."
So, let the games begin.
Ted Bishop is director of golf for The Legends of Indiana Golf Course in Franklin and secretary for PGA of America.

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