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Jim Murray

In His Job, He Doesn't Fall Short

November 27, 1987|Jim Murray

LA QUINTA — As a golfer, Deane Beman had to be 1) patient; 2) contemplative; 3) not easily rattled; and 4) as deliberate as a guy making a clock. He had to rely on the other guy's mistakes without making any of his own.

Deane could play, all right. In fact, given the tools he had to work with, he might have been inch-for-inch, yard-for-yard the best player out there.

It's not that Deane was short (although he was, 5 foot 7 inches), it's that his game was.

All Deane ever heard throughout his career was, "I believe it's you," or "You're away, Deane." Deane wore out two fairway woods a month. He was constantly playing with guys who had 8-iron second shots to his 3-wood second shots.

But they usually ended up on the same place on the green.

Deane learned very early in the game not to throw a club or kick a ball washer when his ball came to rest in a clump of knee-high rough. Deane had a shot for it.

He was as unemotional as a faro dealer. He would greet a hole in one or a shank with the same poker-faced enthusiasm. Deane didn't even shrug.

I remember once when Deane came within one measly shot of winning a U.S. Open (in 1969 at Houston where Orville Moody won), and he came into the locker room afterward to find host pro Jackie Burke was not commiserating with him noticeably. In fact, Burke pointed at him, snickering: "Now, Deane, we can't have a little old short-knocker like you winning the United States Open! How would it look?"

Well, the little old short-knocker had won two U.S Amateurs in the days when that venerable tournament was still one of the most prized in all golf. He also won the British Amateur in 1959. "He did more with a 230-yard drive than any man who ever played this game," the late Jimmy Demaret used to say. "If they still used wooden clubs, he'd be unbeatable."

He was hard enough to beat with steel shafts. He won four tournaments, after he finally turned pro: the Texas Open ('69), Milwaukee ('70), Quad Cities ('72) and Shrine-Robinson ('73).

When Deane Beman became the commissioner of all golf (PGA, anyway) in 1974, he knew the game from both angles--the elite player, winner on the tour, holder of prestigious championships, and the guy who didn't roll out of bed with the ability to hit the ball 300 yards but had to work and qualify to stay in the game at all.

He also knew how to keep his calm and remain steady when the booming drives of the job fell all around him--the inevitable criticism from the players, the press, the sponsors, the networks. But Deane Beman just took his 4-wood out and found a way to get to the green.

He occasionally hit one into the water--his attempts to stem the outflow of players to the British Open instead of playing in Milwaukee or Moline was a mistake. Deane occasionally read a break wrong.

His most controversial was doing away (in effect) with the storied Monday-morning "rabbit" qualifying. He did this by accepting a suggestion from Gary McCord, a rabbit's rabbit, that the exempt list be expanded from top 60 to top 125 on the money list plus qualifying school graduates.

On the face of it, this seemed equitable. But golf historically had been a dynasty, a leader-board aristocracy. It was a game in which the rich got richer--and the poor got cut.

The 125-player exemption took the pressure off the little guy. It made him able to play bolder golf, it enabled him to go for the win, not just the cut.

It didn't depose the crowned heads of golf, altogether, it just made fewer of them. Like the French Revolution, it turned the game over to the mob.

It was hell on headline writers, heaven for the graduating classes of Wake Forest and Brigham Young. But, to the cries that he was making the game anarchic, Beman pointed to the fact the purses were $8.2 million when he came into the game--and $32.2 million this year. The assets of the PGA grew from $730,000 to $100 million. Beman, as usual, was using every club in the bag.

"It's not the exempt list that reduces repeat winners on today's tour," Beman insists, "it's agents. A guy wins a tournament today and his agent has him booked in 50 corporate outings. So, he loses his touch. I don't see why a player can't stay on the tour and make the same money. The answer there may be that he doesn't have to split his tour money with the agent. So, the agent books him where he shares."

Deane also enthusiastically espoused the concept of "stadium" golf.

This took the game of golf out of the play-it-as-it-lies theory of golf spectating, the one where the crowd got the same view of the game as a U-boat captain would get of an Allied freighter.

Beman and partners began to build a whole series of courses coast-to-coast with mounds surrounding key greens, an attempt to give a golf audience as clear a view of the game as a 50-yard line ticket-holder in a Super Bowl.

Beman was in Southern California for the imminent construction of the 13th such Tournament Players Club in the hills and valleys of land owned by Bob Hope in Ventura County.

Many thought Beman's original motive in construction of modern facilities was to wrest the "majors" away from the hoary venues of golf and turn at least one over to the PGA, which now has none of the "majors" under its flag--the Masters, U.S. and British opens and PGA being run by other organizations. But Beman insisted his network of courses are designed first and foremost to make golf as viewable as the Army-Navy game. And, this week's Skins Game extravaganza is being played on one of the TPC hippodromes, PGA West at La Quinta.

As usual, the people who said "You're away, Deane" out on the fairway, find they have to hit first as usual now that the game has reached the green.

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