POIPU – His smile was wider than a Kalalau horizon, his pearly whites gleamed amid the backdrop of a neatly trimmed Poipu Bay golf course.
Rich Beem has never pictured himself in this setting, among golf’s elite.
Sitting in the Poipu Bay clubhouse with names like Tiger Woods, Justin Leonard and Davis Love III, the 2002 PGA Championship winner couldn’t help but simper at the thought that he had become a PGA Grand Slam invitee, a feat that, by all accounts, carries with it a Herculean degree of difficulty.
“This is going to be fantastic,” Beem said Monday, a day before he competes against Woods, Leonard, and Love in the Grand Slam, which is being held on Kaua’i for the ninth consecutive year. “It still hasn’t sunk in yet, but I do know it’s going to be a lot of fun.”
Even Woods, who will play for his fifth straight Grand Slam title, recognizes the esteem that comes with an invitation to Kaua’i.
“Every time you play here you had a great year,” Woods said. “This is the hardest tournament to qualify in all of golf. I mean, we’re all Major winners here.”
But to Beem, winning a Major and having the opportunity to play the Grand Slam will take time getting used to. The 31-year-old from El Paso in Texas was struggling so much seven years ago that he quit the game to sell mobile phones and car stereos in Seattle.
Beem only graduated to the PGA Tour in 1999 and arrived at Hazeltine with almost no track record in Major championships.
“People recognize me now, like at the car wash or whatever…at a lot of places,” Beem said. “It’s different, sometimes fun.”
Despite his success this year, Beem, who has won just three tournaments in four years on tour, hardly feels he belongs among golf’s haut-monde.
“I’ve had a great year, but it’s just one year,” he said. “I need a few good years under my belt before I can join these guys.”
Another Major, maybe?
“I’d just like to win another event, let alone a major.”
Today is not only the first time Beem will play in the Grand Slam, it is the first time he has seen Kaua’i. He plans on visiting the island further when the event ends on Wednesday.
“I’m going to hang out the next four days, maybe take up windsurfing or something,” Beem said. “It’s going to be great.”
Woods has been to Kaua’i six times before, and he still considers the island the best pit stop between playing tournaments overseas and heading back to the mainland.
“I’ve always had a great time here,” Woods said. “The people are fantastic, the fans are great. It’s more intimate here because there aren’t a lot of people. It’s great for the golfers, and even better for the gallery.”