Rich Beem was inspired by practicing with Fuzzy Zoeller and John Daly in 2002. (Daniel/Getty Images)
Beem's pro-active strategy helped him conquer Hazeltine in 2002
Rich Beem's magical week was a compelling combination of aggressive play off the tee and proficient putting. In fact, Beem ranked first in putting for the week and hit 66 percent of his greens in regulation.
While preparing for his return to Hazeltine National Golf Club for the 2009 PGA Championship, Rich Beem shared the strategy he utilized seven years ago to record one eagle, 19 birdies, 41 pars, and 11 bogeys to weather a late charge from Tiger Woods and win the 2002 PGA Championship at 10-under-par 278.
Beem's magical week at Hazeltine National, which delivered the El Paso, Texas, resident his first major championship, was a compelling combination of aggressive play off the tee and proficient putting. In fact, Beem ranked first in putting for the week (107 total putts) and hit 66 percent of his greens in regulation en route to his victory.
"I was playing a practice round with Fuzzy (Zoeller) and J.D. (John Daly) on Tuesday at Hazeltine, and I hit a driver off the tee on the fifth hole, a dogleg right par 4," recalls Beem. "Fuzzy turned to me and said, 'now why would you hit driver on this hole?' I said, 'Why wouldn't I hit driver?' I had been driving the ball extremely well and I decided I would continue to play to my strength at Hazeltine. I had won on Tour two weeks earlier (at The International in Castle Pines, Colo.), and I had played aggressively off the tee there. I didn't even give it a second thought at Hazeltine. I didn't hit driver on every hole, but I hit driver on every hole I could."
No. 16, a par-4 with Hazeltine Lake on the right and a creek on the left, was an exception. "I didn't hit driver there because there was nowhere to land a driver, especially when it got a little windy," says Beem. "I wasn't going to change my game plan because I was playing in a major.
"I had a great combination working that week in 2002. I was driving the ball well and I was putting extremely well. I made every putt I looked at in the first two rounds, and that made up for any lapses in ball striking."
Beem's aggressive strategy paid "major" dividends when he averaged 316 yards on the driving holes and hit 13 of 14 fairways in the final round. He played the par 5s in 7 under par for the week (two shots better than Woods) and recorded his second eagle of the week at the par-5 11th hole on Sunday to open a five-shot lead on the back nine.
"The par 5s at Hazeltine were a key that week, but I also played the par 3s very well (2 under for the week)," says Beem. "On a long course like Hazeltine, you have to make some birdies on the par 5s. The seventh hole was reachable in two in 2002 if you hit a big drive, but you had to hit two perfect shots to reach the 11th (in two).
"When I got there (in two) on Sunday and made the putt (for eagle), that was a big turning point. All I knew was that I had a five-shot lead with four holes to play, so there wasn't anything anyone could do to catch me unless I really did something stupid coming in."
Beem says the two critical holes at Hazeltine National in 2002 were the par-3 eighth and the tricky par-4 16th – and he believes those will be pivotal holes again at the 91st PGA Championship.
"No. 8 is a shortish par 3, but a lot can go wrong there with the water so close to the green. That's the hole that deflated Justin (Leonard) on the last day (of the 2002 PGA Championship) when he knocked it in the water," notes Beem. "The tee ball at the 16th is the scariest you face at Hazeltine. You have the lake on the right and a creek on the left, and anything can happen on that hole when the wind is blowing. I hit a 3-wood or a 5-wood off 16 every day.
"The 16th is one of those holes that can give you a lot of momentum or kill your momentum. Like I said, that's a scary tee shot when you stand up there and see all that water, especially when the wind gets whipping."
Editor's Note: This story appears courtesy of The 91st PGA Championship Journal.