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PGA Championship: Rich Beem on holding off Tiger Woods to major glory at Hazeltine, 20 years on



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Two decades on from the biggest win of his career, Rich Beem reflects on holding off Tiger Woods with an impressive display to secure major glory at the 2002 PGA Championship.

Two decades on from the biggest win of his career, Rich Beem reflects on holding off Tiger Woods with an impressive display to secure major glory at the 2002 PGA Championship.

Two decades on from registering the biggest win of his career, 2002 PGA Champion Rich Beem reflects on his memorable week at Hazeltine and holding off Tiger Woods to celebrate major glory…

As a kid, I never stood on a putting green and tried to hole five-footers to win the PGA Championship, the US Open, The Masters, or whatever it was – I didn’t dream that big! I just enjoyed golf for what it was, a game and a sport that my dad loved and was his profession.

My life was never supposed to necessarily turn out this way. Looking back and reflecting on everything that happened, the moments that week, the Sunday, what happened afterwards, I can’t tell you how lucky I am to have experienced all the great things that came with winning.

Beem went from outside the world's top 300 to inside the world's top 25 during an impressive 2002

Beem went from outside the world’s top 300 to inside the world’s top 25 during an impressive 2002

I’ve learned to look at golf through a different lens through the years and recently watched the video of that last round as a broadcast instead of a player. It was such a bizarre look, as I kept thinking to myself ‘he can’t keep this up’!

I’m still a little kid on the inside and just giggle when I think about the fact that I won a PGA Championship and I’m a major champion. To sit and have an answer on how it feels, 20 years after, I still can’t help but smile.

Rich Beem enjoyed a one-shot victory at the 2002 PGA Championship

Rich Beem enjoyed a one-shot victory at the 2002 PGA Championship

Journey to major glory

I was probably in one of the best spaces I’d ever been in, even before arriving at the PGA Championship, as I had just won The International earlier that month and everything in my world was fantastic.

My golf was good, I was recently married, and I felt on top of the world to be completely honest. Everything outside the game was going well and it was feeling free and easy inside the ropes.

Ahead of this week's PGA Championship, check out the top 10 shots ever played at the tournament.

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Ahead of this week’s PGA Championship, check out the top 10 shots ever played at the tournament.

Ahead of this week’s PGA Championship, check out the top 10 shots ever played at the tournament.

We got up early on the Monday morning for a practice round, as my caddie and I wanted to go out and see the course on our own, and for some reason It just immediately seemed fairly simple and straightforward.

The one thing I liked most about it was the driving lines, as there were a lot of places where I felt like I could take on some of the corners and be rewarded for it, so I didn’t feel I had to play safe and take out a long iron or fairway wood.

I was driving it so well that year and I really looked at the golf course and thought there were a lot of tee shots that I could take on and substantially reduce the distance of them. That just carried into the rest of the game from there and made me feel that contending that week was doable.

The waiting is nearly over for the second men's major of the year, with extended coverage from the PGA Championship live this May on Sky Sports Golf.

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The waiting is nearly over for the second men’s major of the year, with extended coverage from the PGA Championship live this May on Sky Sports Golf.

The waiting is nearly over for the second men’s major of the year, with extended coverage from the PGA Championship live this May on Sky Sports Golf.

Special Sunday

I started the final round three back and I was so nervous over that first tee shot, although that was more down to excitement than anything else! I couldn’t wait to get started and ripping driver was almost a decompression of everything that had been building up for me since my third round finished.

I hit so many good shots out there but one I really enjoyed was the second shot at the seventh. I was super unsure whether to go for it or not and finally just looked at my caddie said: ‘I haven’t laid up all week, so why now?!’ It found the front edge and then I was able to two-putt from long range.

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May 19, 2022, 1:00pm

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Everybody talks about the second shot on the 11th, which to this day is probably the best fairway wood I’ve ever hit in my life. Looking back now, it’s still fairly remarkable and I still don’t really remember how I managed it!

Another moment that stands out is at the 18th tee box, where we assumed we had a three-stroke lead. My caddie pulled out the driver, which he never did, took the headcover off and said: ‘do me a favour, hit this thing as hard as you can’.

Beem ended the week on 10 under and a shot ahead of Tiger Woods

Beem ended the week on 10 under and a shot ahead of Tiger Woods

I got up there and just smoked it right down the middle and nailed the longest drive of the day! He just knew that whenever I got nervous, if I thought about hitting it hard I was at least going to hit it straight. It’s not like I was out of control, I was just able to buckle down and roast one down there.

Holding off Tiger

I’ve said this a thousand times, but I wasn’t thinking about Tiger Woods to be fair – probably because I didn’t want to! It’s hard enough to win a tournament doing what you’re doing, but when you start thinking about someone else’s game and what they can potentially do, then you’ve got no chance.

Woods is a four-time winner of the PGA Championship, although had to settle for second in 2002

Woods is a four-time winner of the PGA Championship, although had to settle for second in 2002

For some odd reason, I was able to put his name on the leaderboard out of sight. I think that when you get in a position like that as a player, the last thing you want to do is think about what somebody else is doing as you can’t control a single thing they do.

I was playing alongside Justin Leonard and he was faltering on the back nine and I felt bad for him, but there’s nothing I could do. It’s not like I slowed myself down, I stuck to my game and stuck with keeping my foot on the gas.

Beem carded rounds of 72, 66, 72, 68 to register the biggest win of his career

Beem carded rounds of 72, 66, 72, 68 to register the biggest win of his career

I think that’s what Tiger did over the years, kind of tried to intimidate people, but I was able to avoid that. I think I was also fortunate to not play with him in the final round because that certainly benefitted me in the long run.

I truly didn’t really consider Tiger until it was all said and done and was like ‘phew, that was fun!’, especially after he birdied those last four holes at me. I had a massive lead going to the 14th tee box and then suddenly was left mentally and physically exhausted by the time we had finished!

Live PGA Championship Golf

May 19, 2022, 10:30pm

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I obviously got delirious on that 18th green and did that dance. What in the world was I thinking?! I have no clue! That was not rehearsed, that was not dreamt up, it was absolute sheer relief and joy for the moment. A dance to say thank goodness this is over!

Winning the PGA Championship is an amazing accomplishment, there’s no doubt, but I don’t wake up every day and say to myself ‘I’m a major championship’. I just wake up thankful that I’m still involved in the game of golf.

Watch extended coverage of the PGA Championship live from May 19-22 on Sky Sports Golf!


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