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Rich Beem 2009 PGA Championship
Rich Beem enters the 91st PGA Championship having missed two of his last four cuts. (Photo: Getty Images)

Despite struggles, Beem confident that 'my best is yet to come'

Seven years ago he stunned the golf world by holding off a charging Tiger Woods to win the PGA Championship at Hazeltine National. Now Rich Beem feels his "mental scarring" has healed and he ready to return to his once-fine form.

By Melanie Hauser, Correspondent

It was the most entertaining 20 minutes Rich Beem had spent in a long time.

Most fun. Most non-stop laughs in his life.

Oh, there was a little frustration there, too. Has to be when you're staring down major league fastballs -- even those thrown from the front of the mound by Minnesota Twins manager Ronnie Gardenhire.

But, hey, Beemer got 'em to the warning track. Not bad for an old high school baseball player turned golfer

"Absolutely a riot," Beem said of the July opportunity to take batting practice with the Twins. "... I don't think I've laughed that hard for 20 consecutive minutes ever in my life. It was THE best thing I've ever done. It was absolutely a blast."

Not to mention a break from the dog days of summer -- and yet another promising turnaround season that seemed to be slip-sliding away.

Has it really been seven years since Beemer up and won the PGA Championship at Hazeltine National? That long since he sat there grinning and reminding us it was all about the trophy? That, folks, was the coolest thing.

A few minutes later, he had us in stitches again, talking about the days when he was selling cell phones in Seattle or losing his patience trying to teach lessons on a driving range. And about beating Tiger Woods that afternoon in 2002? He didn't even know Tiger had birdied the 72nd hole to cut his lead to two shots until David Feherty gave him the heads-up in the 18th fairway.

Yes, it was quite a day for Beemer, who did that awkward dance on the 18th green and laughed that he had set himself up to get drummed by Tiger at the Grand Slam. He jumped into the exclusive major-winners club in just the fourth one he'd ever played. And that, by the way, was his third win, period.

Seven years later, Beemer's win total is still sitting at three. He's fallen to 290th in the world rankings. He's struggling to make the PGA TOUR Playoffs for the FedExCup -- again.

But he's still smiling.

Spend five minutes with the 39-year-old and you're guaranteed at least one chuckle or laugh. Life, you see, is meant to be lived. And the bad? That's there to remind you when the good times roll around that they won't last forever, but they will be back again.

Beemer doesn't make excuses. He knows if you base his career on golf, it hasn't been that great. If you look at life, though it has. He's a husband, a father of two and the dad in him can't wait for the chance to have 6-year-old Michael and 4-year-old Bailee see Hazeltine. And Tiger.

"My son plays Tiger Woods on the Wii game," Beemer said. "I'm looking forward to getting a chance to introduce him to Tiger. I'm sure that'll be a thrill for him.

"And I'm looking forward to letting them see where it all started for their dad. To me, that's a very exciting prospect."

Not that golf is taking a back seat. It never has. He's visited Hazeltine several times now, getting a feel for the new length and look.

"My special shots were trying to figure how to hit 3-woods and 5-woods into par 4s," he laughed. "That is a big golf course. They lengthened that sucker. I don't think the PGA is going to play us back all the time, but, man, that course is a beast."

Beemer came into the 2002 PGA on a high. He had won The INTERNATIONAL two weeks before and he was relaxed. That season had already been a success.

"I'll be honest," he said. "I had zero expectations of my week. I think that was the fourth major I'd ever played in so I literally had no expectations of what I could accomplish. So with that attitude, I really put zero amount of pressure on myself or my game."

And the first thing that pops into his head about that week? The fans.

"I went off first thing Monday morning -- 7 a.m. -- and by the time I got done just before 11,  there were probably 25,000-30,000 people walking the grounds," he said. "I hadn't seen anything like that in any tournament I'd played in. I thought that was pretty cool."

The coolest came Sunday afternoon with a win that set him apart from so many others -- a major title. It seemed to say there was so much more to come.

There was. Good things off the course, not so good on it.

Beem finished seventh on the money list that year, then slipped to 71st in 2003 and 183rd in 2004. He has bounced in and out of the top 125 since then.

This time around, he comes back as the defending champ at this course, but a player who is searching to turn yet another season around. And one who will be asked what's been going on for these last seven years.

"As far as golf goes, I probably put a little more expectation on myself and probably tried to do too much with my game and my golf swing," he said. "Probably got caught up a bit in that phenomenon -- once you have the luxury of being able to tinker around with your golf swing to make it better, ultimately, you screw it up and make it worse.

"I think I kind of fell into that cycle, but I feel like I'm a better player now than I was in 2002. In fact, there's no doubt in my mind ... Would I have liked to have played better? Without a doubt, but in order to move forward, you sometimes have to take a step back. And I think my best is yet to come."

Beemer chuckles when he says there were no serious injuries during his slump, just "lots of mental scarring." He and his teacher, Cameron Doan, the head PGA Professional at Dallas' Preston Trail Golf Club, started tinkering with his swing after the 2002 PGA in an effort to make it more efficient -- "along the lines of what Padraig Harrington is doing so when you get out there every day you can find the timing a little bit easier."

It worked. But only for a while. "If you're working on something every day, you get consumed with it and you lose sight of the big picture -- trying to get that little white ball into the hole as soon as possible," Beem said. "So I think the scoring aspect of the game took a back seat to trying to get myself to swing the golf club a little better.

"It's finally coming around to where my scoring is getting a little bit better, but you get to the point where you do lose sight of what you need to do. There is a lot of give and take in this game."

And once his swing was back in place and his mind right? Then it's all about getting comfortable playing near or in the lead.

"You have to get used to that again," Beem said. "The nice thing is you know your best is good enough. If I play my best it's good enough to win. I know that because I've proven that."

Beem started off the year strong -- an opening 66 at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, a tie for 13th at the Northern Trust Open and a tie for sixth at the Mayakoba Golf Classic at Riviera-Maya Cancun. Then, after finishing tied for 12th at the Transitions Championship, he missed five of the next six cuts.

During that stretch, Beem took time to raise more than $10,000 to help Dallas Cowboys assistant coach Rich Behm (pronounced Beem) who was paralyzed below the waist when a storm ripped through a spring practice in Las Colinas. Beem has yet to meet the coach, but felt he had to do something and it turned into the Beem for Behm campaign.

He comes into the PGA Championship week having missed the cut in two of his last four events. He withdrew from last week's Legends Reno-Tahoe Open  -- he was 109th on the money list going in -- after opening with an 80.

So, once again, he has work to do to qualify for the FedExCup playoffs.

"I'm right there again, aren't I?" he said. "You start off well, things muffled in the summer and all of a sudden I'm right there again trying to get my sorry butt into the FedExCup Playoffs. I've got every confidence I'll do it again.

"It's a process. It's not just something you wake up one day and say I'm going to go play some of the best golf of my life. It doesn't happen. There are pitfalls. You're going to have days when you wake up and you strike the ball wonderfully and you can't seem to catch a break. Other days when you hit it poorly. but you make a lot of putts. You've got to grin and bear it.

"It's no fun. But that's why we all do it. We're looking for that day when we can put it all together and walk off and say 'That was pretty damn fun. Let's go do it again.'"

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