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.
The first tour event in New Orleans was the 1922 Southern Open, which the great Gene Sarazen won by eight shots.
Beem's only status on the PGA Tour now 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.