A Beem of light

NORTON, Mass. – Fortunately, TPC Boston is not too far from MIT, for it might take a team of numbers geeks from one of the most esteemed universities in the land to figure out this FedEx Cup points system.

Before we know it, players will be heading to the first tee with 14 clubs, a slide rule and a calculator. Right now, I’m really not sure who has the best shot at winning this FedEx thing: Tiger Woods or Pythagoras.

Best we can tell, Rich Beem – 113th in the points table with 87,063 of those suckers – needs to finish no worse than a two-way tie for second at this week’s Deutsche Bank Championship to advance to another round of the FedEx Cup playoffs. Should Beem finish, say, third, I wouldn’t want to be the guy asking for his PGA Tour playbook and telling him he can’t go to Chicago, which happens to be one of his favorite cities in the world.

Seeing that it’s Beem, one of the Tour’s true free spirits, that might not make one bit of difference.

“I might just go anyway,” beamed the Beemer. “Forget (Tim) Finchem. I might just show up.”

He laughed. He’s crazy enough to do it.

Six rounds into golf’s (OK everyone, chime along in unison) New Playoff Era, Beem has become the FedEx posterchild. Starting the playoffs seeded 134th, he tied for seventh at The Barclays to beat the odds and earn his way to Round 2 outside Boston. And here he is again, whistling while he works and scrambling for his postseason life.

Apparently, Beem, a self-described procrastinator, likes it when his back is against the wall. Saturday at TPC Boston, he shot 5-under 66, and, at 9-under 133, he shares the midway lead with Aaron Baddeley and Mike Weir.

The FedEx Cup was built with Tiger and Phil and Vijay in mind. Instead we’ve gotten Steve Stricker and a host of improbable contenders. Beem barely made the playoffs, and he’s only too happy to be crashing the party. In a world of silver spooners, he’s a refreshing face, a former car stereo and cell phone salesman who knows what it’s like to hear the alarm go off at 6 a.m. on a Monday with a regular job awaiting.

Maybe that’s why Beem has such a magical touch with people. He can be a regular Joe and he doesn’t forget from where it is he came. That was evident Monday afternoon when he touched down in nearby Providence, R.I. Tired from his big week at The Barclays, he and his caddie, Billy Heim, grabbed lunch and a couple of beers at Applebee’s. A girl walked in and sat down, asked them where they were headed, and they told her TPC Boston. She told them they should check out the muni down the road. A place called Triggs.

So they did.

Triggs never will be mistaken for Pebble Beach. What kind of joint is it? Well, at least golfers no longer have to hit off mats there. It’s actually a bit of an unpolished gem, an old Donald Ross layout. A green fee runs $37; a green fee, cart and lunch runs $35. That’s no misprint. Must be quite a lunch.

Would Beem ever plunk down $400 or so to play a place like Pebble Beach?

“Oh God no,” he said. “But I’d pay $15 to play El Dump-O-Rama down the street with the bowl-shaped greens and the bunkers that haven’t been raked in four years. Absolutely. That’s fun.”

Admittedly, Beem is a muni guy at heart, and he thoroughly enjoyed his afternoon at Triggs, playing 15 holes until he finally ran out of steam. Or beer. Or both.

Apparently, the barley-laced fluids were plentiful, because somewhere along the way, Beem lost one of the two putters he brought to town.

“I think I gave it to somebody,” he said. “Things were a little fuzzy, if you kind of get my drift.”

Then again, it wouldn’t be unheard of for Beem just to bestow a gift upon somebody for no big reason other than to brighten that person’s day. He knows he’s a privileged guy – he has more than $7.5 million in career earnings on Tour – and if can peel off a couple of crispy C-notes to help someone else not as fortunate, he’ll do it.

Earlier this year he played a pro-am hosted by fellow Tour player John Rollins in Virginia. There was a high school kid driving around on a cart, helping out at the tournament, and Beem struck up a conversation with him. He asked the young man if he was going to his prom. The kid said he was.

“Do you have a limo?” Beem asked him. The kid had made no such arrangements.

So Beem took out a couple hundred dollars from his pocket, urged his pro-am partners to chip in, and handed the kid about $500.

“He rented a limo and the whole nine yards,” says Beem. “Absolutely.”

Why the random kindness?

“To me,” he said, “there is nothing better. It’s kind of like going over to Triggs on Monday and playing golf. I had some beers on the golf couse, and tipped the cart girls more than they probably ever get tipped, and I just had a good time. I’m in a position to do that, and for me, that’s fun. I make somebody else’s day that much better.

“I enjoy that. I wish I could that more often. I wish I could afford to do that more often.”

Cart girls and boys everywhere should be crossing their fingers: First place at the Deutsche Bank pays $1.26 million.

Knowing he has to finish so highly this week at TPC Boston to move on in the playoffs has put Beem in a freewheeling frame of mind. The five-year exemption he earned for winning the 2002 PGA Championship at Hazeltine – where he outlasted one Mr. Tiger Woods – expires at the end of this season, and two weeks ago, Beem was outside the top 125 in money and unsure if he’d even have a card in 2008.

Not that he was terribly worried, mind you.

His wife asked if he’s sent in his application to Q-School, and it was nearly enough to make the Beemer spit out his morning Cheerios.

“It’s just not my style,” he said. “I’m not going to think about it. . . . It might be bullheadedness, might be a lot of things, but it’s just something I wasn’t prepared to do.”

Stitched on his bag is a saying he borrowed from a TV show he viewed a few months ago. It came from a man in his 40s, a father, who was dying early of terminal cancer.

It reads: There are a lot of things to think about, but nothing to worry about.

Pretty good words to live by. In two days, Beem will know whether he is headed to Chicago for the BMW Championship and Round 3 of the FedEx playoffs or “sitting in my pool, sipping a martini.”

It all depends on whether he can win, or tie for second, or, in studying all the FedEx points possibilities, if the moon is in the Seventh House and Jupiter aligns with Mars.

We’ll wait for those MIT mathematicians to get back to us.

Regardless, be it at Cog Hill outside Chicago or on some West Texas muni, there will be golf to play, and chances are, Beem will be playing it, doing it with a big smile on his face.

A guy ought to get some FedEx points for that.

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