Look out for the usual suspects – Jon Rahm, Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas and the game’s hottest player, Scottie Scheffler – who will be up for contention at this week’s PGA Championship at Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, Okla.
But don’t be shocked if someone pops up out of nowhere to eclipse the big names.
After all, 20 years ago, Rich Beem did just that.
Before the 2002 PGA Championship at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, Minnesota, no one was talking about Beem, despite winning the international tournament two weeks earlier in Colorado. People were talking about Tiger Woods, who had won two majors that year, and other top players.
Heading into the final day of play, Beem trailed Justin Leonard, the 1997 British Open champion, by three strokes. Woods was five behind.
On Sunday, however, as Leonard struggled with a five-for-77 to finish tied for fourth, Beem surged.
Two shots that stood out were the 7-wood Beem hit about 270 yards out at No. 11, a par-5, which led to an eagle, and the 35-foot birdie putt he converted at No. 16 He posted a 68 to win by one over Woods. It was Beem’s third victory on the circuit.
Woods, after a few bogeys on the back nine, birdied the final four holes to put the pressure on Beem – something he felt as he was about to hit his second shot on the final hole.
“I was literally like, ‘Don’t do this in front of all these people,'” Beem said. “‘Don’t waste it now.'”
Beem reached the putting surface with his approach, then went down in three putts for a bogey. After the last fall, he did a little dance on the green.
“I could relax,” he said. “I could breathe again. I had finished.”
Beem will never forget shooting at age 11. Perhaps the same could be said of Woods.
During a practice day leading up to the 2016 Ryder Cup at Hazeltine, Woods headed to the No. 12 green. Beem was heading in the opposite direction.
“Don’t say hello,” Beem recalled. “Don’t say, ‘What’s up?'”
Then, Beem said, Woods asked him:
How the hell did you get it home in two Sundays on No. 11?
Beem didn’t miss a beat.
“When you have it, you have it,” he said.
Leonard, who was paired with Beem in 2002, had a similar impression of the approach at age 11.
“It was a shot that I was in awe of,” Leonard recalled. “I felt like it was some kind of tournament right there.”
Not enough. Not with Woods still on the course.
Beem heard the roars as Woods made his late rally.
“I heard them,” Beem said, “but I never really thought about them or wanted to react to them.”
Beem was only 31, but the win would be his last on the tour.
“I’m really disgusted about this,” he said. “That’s probably one of the things that eats at me more than anything else in my career. I probably didn’t grind as hard as I should have in some cases.
He knew a lot about grinding. Before qualifying for the PGA Tour in 1998, Beem was an assistant professional for two years at the El Paso Country Club in Texas. His salary was around $13,000. He made about twice that on mini-tours in New Mexico and West Texas.
Before that, for about nine months, he sold cell phones and car stereos in the Seattle area.
Beem said he was a good phone salesman. Stereos, however, were another matter.
“I was just awful,” he said. “I didn’t realize the speakers were different sizes for different cars.”
Beem, 51, now works as a commentator for Sky Sports, although he hopes to play more often on the PGA Tour Champions, the circuit for professional golfers aged 50 and over.
In the meantime, being exempt as a former PGA champion, he will play Thursday with the youngest in Southern Hills. His goal is to play at the weekend.
“I’m in pretty good health,” he said. “The body is fantastic. I am very capable of making the cut.