By DOUG FERGUSON
SAN DIEGO – The timing could not have been worse last year for Rich Beem, who failed to keep full status on the PGA Tour for the first time in 10 years as his sponsorship deals expired and the economy soured.
But when he started the new season two months later, Beem had a new lineup of sponsors for about the same amount of money.
How did the former PGA champion manage such a feat?
“Basically, I just hit the pavement,” Beem said, sounding like a salesman, which he was.
Two days after he finished the year at No. 140 on the money list, Beem pulled out his phone book and pored through a stack of business cards he had collected over his last decade on the PGA Tour and tried to strike a deal.
“As soon as I got done, I just got on the phone,” Beem said. “I called up people I knew, either CEOs of their business or high enough up and said, ‘Listen, you had talked about doing something with golf, would you like to get into it?’”
His agent helped him negotiate a modest renewal with Callaway Golf (bag, clubs, ball, glove and a logo on the shirt) and a modified deal with Mars, the parent company of Uncle Ben’s rice. Beem used to wear the logo on his cap, and now will do corporate outings.
Beem did the rest on his own.
On his cap is Guggenheim Properties, a private financial services firm with offices in Chicago and New York, courtesy of a longtime relationship with Jack Salerno. On the sleeve of his shirt is Nelson Financial Group – Beem is neighbors in Idaho with one of the executives. He also arranged deals with Oakley (clothing, sunglasses).
None of these would be considered blockbuster deals, but each have a personal touch, and provide enough for Beem to take care of travel expenses as he tries to get by on a schedule built on sponsor exemptions and his conditional status.
And it’s a valuable lesson for players to pay attention to the people they meet on the PGA Tour.
“The best salesperson for anybody is yourself, especially in this game,” Beem said. “You can sell yourself in pro-ams. How many people do we play golf with? Every week, someone gives me a card, a phone number. They tell you, ‘Anytime you’re in town, if you want to get together for dinner,’ or ‘Anything I can do to help you out.’”
Beem met Salerno at Winged Foot during an outing 11 years ago. Salerno gave him his card, told him to call him if he was ever in Chicago and wanted to play Butler National. Beem took him up on the offer, shot 62 at Butler for the unofficial course record and “we’ve been fast friends ever since.”
Beem is comfortable in social settings. Instead of looking at pro-ams as a burden, he sees them as opportunity.
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TIGER UPDATE: Swing coach Hank Haney spoke to a full house at the PGA Merchandise Show last week, and with the topic centered around instruction. He delivered one tidbit that might have surprised some of the teaching pros.
“In the 5 1/2 years that I’ve worked with Tiger, we’ve used video probably four times,” Haney said. “That might surprise a lot of people.”
He paused and offered a wry smile.
“Then again, he’s on TV all the time, especially with some of the highlights,” Haney said. “He’ll call me up and say, ‘Did you see that swing on 16?’ But he knows what his mistakes look like. Once he sees a swing on video, he won’t be surprised.”
Haney has spent most of January at Isleworth with Woods, and while he couldn’t say when the world’s No. 1 player would return to competition from his knee surgery, it sounds as though Woods is getting close.
“He’s not ready right now,” Haney said. “But he’s more ready this week than he was last week. He hasn’t had any setbacks. He wants to play Augusta, and he’s going to need to get in some events.”
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COLLECTOR’S ITEM: Even for a 19-year-old, Rory McIlroy had reason to wonder where the time has gone.
It was 10 years ago when he was watching the World Match Play Championship at Wentworth, the year Colin Montgomerie defeated Mark O’Meara for the title. It seems O’Meara had holed a bunker shot on the 18th hole of the morning round and gave the ball to a young lad from Northern Ireland.
“He signed it and I’ve still got it,” McIlroy said last week.
He couldn’t resist bringing that up when McIlroy and O’Meara, 52, played together the first two rounds of the Dubai Desert Classic, which McIlroy went on to win.
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SLIM CARL: Carl Pettersson started the year looking slimmer than ever, having lost 20 pounds through diet and exercise. Pettersson said he knew it was time for a change when he felt sluggish after rounds, and figured he better get in shape if he wanted to continue competing well into the next decade.
“I actually don’t mind going to the gym,” he said. “But we’ll see how long this lasts.”
So far, so good. A month into the season, Pettersson said he has slipped only once, and that was last week at the FBR Open when he made a couple of trips to In-N-Out, the popular hamburger joint.
Asked if he was chubby as a kid growing up in Sweden, Pettersson replied, “I only lived in Sweden 10 years. You guys make me fat.”
Pettersson, whose father worked for Volvo, moved to North Carolina when he was 15.
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IRONMEN: Brian Gay is finally taking a week off after playing the first four tournaments, all 17 rounds at par or better.
Four other players haven’t missed a beat, although they have missed a cut.
Daniel Chopra, Chez Reavie, Johnson Wagner and Ryuji Imada are scheduled to play the Buick Invitational, giving them five straight weeks on Tour. Chopra and Johnson have yet to make a 36-hole cut (there was no cut in the winners-only field at Kapalua).
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DIVOTS: Lorena Ochoa is changing up her bag for the 2009 season. Ochoa said she will replace her 5-wood with another wedge, giving her four wedges. “And a new putter,” she said with a smile. … David Toms has 12 consecutive rounds in the 60s dating to the second round of the Sony Open. … BMW will be the title sponsor of the Italian Open, giving it three title sponsorships on the European Tour. … The Kraft Nabisco Championship has awarded amateur exemptions to U.S. Women’s Amateur champion Amanda Blumenherst, two-time U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links champion Tiffany Joh, and U.S. Girls’ Junior champion Alexis Thompson. The other amateur spots went to 2008 NCAA champ Azahara Munoz and Auburn’s Candance Schepperle.
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STAT OF THE WEEK: The last 13 winners of the Buick Invitational are major champions, the longest streak of any PGA Tour event except for the four majors.
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FINAL WORD: “I’m getting another 25 with this club. That would be 2 feet, 1 inch.” – Bart Bryant, 46, who was 166th in driving distance last year.