Beman, back in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., ran the PGA Tour for 20 years.
In his days as commissioner of the PGA Tour, when the phone rang it might be Ross Johnson, the CEO of Nabisco and tour sugar daddy. Now when Deane Beman's cell rings there's a good chance it's a fellow collector looking for advice on an antique car restoration. That's life for the 66-year-old Beman, split between comfortable homes in Kennebunkport, Maine, and Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., just over a decade removed from his job as the Most Powerful Man in Golf.
__It's easy to forget what an eventful 20 years Beman spent building the PGA Tour into the money machine it is today. With two clever moves--spending $2,700 to save the tour perhaps $1 billion, and relocating to Sawgrass in a $1 real-estate deal--Beman transformed the tour's financial landscape. __
The first Tournament Players Club emerged from that 415 acres of swamp, and the Beman era of empire building was underway. The all-exempt tour for players, skyrocketing purses, corporate sponsorship and conflict soon followed, with Beman pitted against superstars who vigorously opposed his aggressive expansion into their domain of marketing, course construction and real estate. Indeed, looking back now, it's shocking how relatively quiet the professional game has been since his departure in 1994.
A 1992 Golf Digest series put the commissioner's office and the tour's business under a microscope, and the resulting Cold War took years to thaw. Beman has given few in-depth interviews during the last decade out of deference to his successor, Tim Finchem, but he has plenty to say about where golf is going.
__We caught up with Beman in Kennebunkport, where he plays occasionally with former President Bush, and in Ponte Vedra, where he's still called "commissioner" at the Players Club and is extended a special privilege: access to the stash of practice balls usually reserved for fellow range rat Vijay Singh. Around the house Beman's wife, Judy, a former tour secretary, leaves notes for "DRB,'' using the old office shorthand for the boss. __
Throughout three days of interviews, Beman displayed a quick wit and sharp memory. He tells of playing with and against Jack Nicklaus, and he also shares what it's like to be a U.S. Open qualifier as a high school junior with Ben Hogan looking over his shoulder. On tour policy Beman gives Finchem a wide berth, but he doesn't give the game's gatekeepers a total pass, especially when the subject turns to advances in equipment technology. There are hints of disgust in Beman's voice as he discusses those he believes have let the game down by standing by and doing nothing--a charge never leveled against him.
GOLF DIGEST: You've gone from being the most powerful man in golf to a not-quite average citizen. Do you ever miss the job?
DEANE BEMAN: I can honestly say 10 years later that I haven't missed it for a minute. I got my life back, and I like it.
Do you see much of Finchem?
I see him all the time. I respect the job he's got to do and what he's doing.
Does he ask you for advice?
No. And I'm completely comfortable with him not asking me. I'm delighted.
Do you have any disagreements with what Finchem has done?
Not that I'd tell you.
You've made it a policy not to second-guess?
I would second-guess the whole golf industry about technology.
Including the PGA Tour?
The whole golf industry. Here's what I'm seeing: Modern players appear to be very, very good because they hit it a long way and they score very well. I have a great deal of respect for the players today and what they can do. But many of them are being cheated out of really learning how to perfect their craft because of the technology they're playing with. If you put the old ball in front of them to play, it would be a massacre.
'I decided to shame, shame, shame those organizations.'
What about the argument against adopting a separate ball for tour players because everyday golfers believe they're playing the same game and the same equipment?
It's a figment of their imagination.
Finchem has been making noise the last few years about the distance factor.
Over the years the tour has been caught in an almost impossible dilemma. We had an enormous respect for the USGA and good reason to defer to them as far as the rules. It was very convenient; we had enough problems of our own. We expected them to ultimately do the right thing. And they never have.
Average driving distance on tour increased only slightly in 2004. But you think there's still a lot of distance to be gained by the best players with modern equipment and training?
I'll stand by this: By 2020 there will be another 50 yards in the long-driving leaders, to an average of 350 yards. I'm going to be 67 years old, and I carry it farther and hit it longer than I ever have. That doesn't make any sense at all.
Nicklaus has harped on this subject.
He's not harping on it. He happens to be right.
It became an issue in last year's U.S. Open at Shinnecock, people saying that the distance players are hitting the ball leads to tricked-up course setups. A travesty. The USGA's silly setup of the Open speaks louder than I could ever speak. On the one hand, they say there isn't any problem. On the other hand, they have to do what I call Draculan things.
Draconian. But I said Draculan.
You're putting a little twist on it.
They have to take Draconian measures to prevent scoring. If everything is all right, why can't they just play the golf course? Because the players would eat them alive.
Golf used to have a wonderful blend of distance and direction, short game and long game, finesse and strength. It's no longer in balance. The deck is stacked in favor of the guy who happened to come out of the womb bigger and stronger.
What's the solution?
I don't know all the answers, but I suspect one of them is to make the ball curve. It isn't that we didn't have guys who were big and strong years ago. But they learned early on that if they used their full strength too often during a round, they couldn't find the ball. Nicklaus was the first guy who was really stronger and could hit it and find it.
You two played a lot of golf together. What about Jack's approach struck you?
He leveled on every shot.
He never changed his routine, whether he was practicing or playing for 10 cents or playing for the trophy or a million bucks. If he had an 18-inch putt, he was going to stand there and go through his routine, no matter what. Couldn't care less. Starting about 1958, Jack and I really became friends and played a lot of golf together through the '60s. And I don't believe I ever saw Jack miss a putt under three feet long. Practice rounds, tournament, anywhere. Ever. I cannot remember one.
His longevity probably didn't surprise you because you knew him so well.
None of it surprises me. Why did he have such a long career? I don't know; I'm not a Ouija board. I've heard one theory: Jack played his first 10 years on tour, got up to 1971 or 1972 and found out that he didn't have very much money. As a matter of fact, when he wanted to build a new house, he went to a banker to get a loan, but the guy shook his head and said, "Jack, I won't lend you the money on that financial statement." Jack was shocked. Been 10 years on tour, the dominant player in the world, making all kinds of money. Didn't have any real money. So I think that had quite an influence.
You won the first of your two U.S. Amateurs in 1960, the year after Jack won the first of his two Amateurs. But you also qualified for the 1955 U.S. Open at Olympic while you were still in high school. What happened?
I'll tell you a funny story. I convinced my teachers that I didn't have to take final exams, and I went out a week early to play. Junior in high school. I get out on the practice tee, I'm by myself. Hogan hasn't arrived yet. I'm out hitting balls, and back then you brought your own practice balls. My practice balls were a real grab bag. Pretty soon, I hear a rustling behind me, and up comes an entourage with Hogan and his caddie. The caddie has a brand-new box--I mean a big box--of Titleists. The caddie cuts the box open and dumps the sleeves of brand-new balls.
Pretty soon, another guy walks in front of me, and it's Bo Wininger. And he's got this shag bag of all brand-new balls. Wininger hits about 10 balls, and now I'm down to a 4-wood. I hit this one ball that's got a cut in it. It takes off, and you could hear this pfffft! Wininger looks over his shoulder, looks at me, looks down at the golf balls I've got, and he says, "Son, aren't you afraid one of those things is going to explode?"
Not to be intimidated, I hit a couple more 4-woods, a couple more drivers, and I was out of there.
That was your first time around Hogan?
In '53 when he won the Masters and the Open and the British Open, I played an exhibition with him when he came back from Carnoustie. It was pretty special.
Oh, yeah. Not a year before, I was an 80s-shooter, and here I was playing in an exhibition with Hogan.
Where else did you two play?
Played with him at Colonial, played with him at Augusta. The first two rounds of the Open in '59 at Winged Foot I played with Hogan and ... I'm losing the name now, but he won the Open in '57 in Toledo ... Dick Mayer. I was distracted and bothered by Dick Mayer. Because Dick Mayer snap-hooked it 36 straight times. It proved my focus wasn't as good as Hogan's, because he couldn't have cared less.
I remember falling into a practice round with Hogan at Augusta in the early '60s. It was Dow Finsterwald and me against Hogan and Fred Hawkins for a $10 nassau. I had just come out of Maryland in the wintertime and was trying to find my game. But I was scrambling well and making some putts, kind of squirreled it around. It wasn't pretty, but somehow we kept it close, and I think I holed a putt on the 18th to keep us 1 up. Hogan had three-putted the last. He didn't like the look of my game, and frankly, neither did I. After we'd finished, I overheard him saying to one of the other guys, "We'll play at the same time tomorrow ... " and then, with a glance toward me, "but not with him again."
Did you have much conversation with Hogan during a round?
You didn't have an intellectual exchange with Hogan while he was playing.
You mentioned playing with him at Augusta. Bobby Jones was another icon from the early days of the game. Did you get to know him there?
Delightful guy. I remember meeting him the first time I got to Augusta to play, 1959. I introduced myself to Cliff Roberts [Augusta National co-founder], and he brought me over to have lunch. I said, "Mr. Jones, it's really great to be here and be welcome, but I was here last year."
He said, "I didn't see you here last year."
I said, "I know you didn't see me last year--and neither did any of your security people."
The year before we were playing a college tournament in Miami. We finished on Saturday, drove all night. We got into Augusta, parked on a street and jumped the fence about 5 o'clock in the morning. Jumped the fence down by the fifth tee and watched the tournament all day long.
I said, "It certainly is nice to be welcomed at the gate. From jumping the fence to being welcomed at the gate." He got a good chuckle out of that.
And he probably checked on the security guard down at the fifth hole. Let's do one more bit of name-dropping. You spend your summers in Kennebunkport. Do you see much of the Bushes?
Judy and Barb are very good friends, and we see them, play golf a couple of times a year at Cape Arundel. What a great family.
How long does it take to play a round with the former president?
Two and a half hours would be long. You don't have to take a full afternoon off if you start at 1 o'clock.
Do you talk politics?
Not much. We usually talk about what's been happening in golf, be it the Ryder Cup, Masters or U.S. Open. Just chitchat with friends.
Have you ever played with the current president?
I played with him when he was governor of Texas. He can play. He's long; he's strong.
As we speak you're preparing to go back to Ponte Vedra, and the van is packed with your motorcycles. Any close calls with them?
We do local riding, take some trips. Had a scary experience once on the tour plane, though.
When was that?
We were going to meet with ESPN up in Bristol, Conn. The plane landed in a real low ceiling, made a hard landing and the gear collapsed. This would have been late 1980s, early '90s. Finchem was there with me in the back of the plane. As soon as we hit the ground and the gear collapsed, the airplane got sideways and got on the grass, which was our saving grace. Because if it had stayed on the runway, the friction might have ignited it.
On to a more pleasant topic: As commissioner, what were your most important contributions to the growth and success of the tour?
I had been in the insurance business before I turned professional. I did mostly corporate business. When I became commissioner in 1974 I had never seen the corporate charter, but I just assumed we were a nonprofit. I started work on Jan. 1, but I had to sign some papers March 1 for New York City taxes, New York State taxes and federal taxes. I read this stuff and asked, "What are we paying these taxes for?'' It was a Delaware for-profit corporation. I went to our attorney and said, "Explain this to me.'' I got very perfunctory answers from these high-class New York lawyers who basically said, "Young man, we know what we're doing. Why don't you just go back and run golf tournaments?''
We were moving to Washington, and I called a young lawyer and asked him, "Can we, the PGA Tour, an association of players, be just like these other [nonprofits]?'' And he said, "Sure. The only problem is, you've got five years of history paying taxes. There is no local guy who's going to tell you that you can change, because they're not going to give up the income. You're going to have to fight them for it.''
I called the attorney and said, "What if a group of guys decide to start their own organization from scratch, with no history, no nothing?'' He said they would get it in a minute. It was called the Tournament Golfers' Association, we filed it, and guess what? They approved by return mail without a hearing. It was done in 60 days. Once we had that, I transferred all the board of directors over to this new corporation, all the administrative people over to this new organization and then went to the IRS and said, "OK, this organization is disbanding. We want to take those assets and move it over to this," and they let us do it, tax-free.
We spent $2,700 on attorneys fees. That move from a profit to a nonprofit organization probably has been worth a billion dollars over the years to the tour and the players. It gave us the ability to pass along hundreds of millions to our players, to charities through tournament organizations without paying taxes.
And the other thing you really created out of nothing were the TPCs, starting with the Players Championship at Sawgrass.
The influence of the TPCs is enormous. I don't know how you calculate it.
There was some opposition and criticism of the concept, specifically from Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer.
The original concept was to build the Players Championship into a special event. Think about it. Golf had its regular-season events, and then there were the Masters, the U.S. Open, the British Open and the PGA Championship. Those were the big four tournaments, and the money for those four went to somebody else [Augusta National, the U.S. Golf Association, the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews and the PGA of America]. They were there before we were. Now, what can we do? We can get our players together and try to boycott and try to negotiate and all that. I decided on a different strategy.
I decided to shame, shame, shame those organizations into taking the millions and millions of dollars they were making and sharing more of it with our players. When the Players Championship moved to TPC Sawgrass in 1982 and then upgraded the event to a big purse, the established majors had to chase that. They chased the hell out of it. The first one to chase it was the PGA, because I'd already had a confrontation with them, and they knew that if they didn't chase it damn good they were going to have problems.
What was the confrontation?
The organizations had colluded among themselves to keep prize money down. One [major] would not raise money without all the others agreeing. They got in a meeting room and decided. I know they did. That's when my personal bad press started. Those leaders went to the press and said I was a bad guy. I went to the USGA Executive Committee every year. They drew straws to see who was going to have to tell me what their purse was going to be.
Finally, I was to have a meeting at Augusta National with the then-head of Augusta. I'm not going to tell you which guy it was, but he happened to tell me, when we were talking about the purse, "We're not sure what we're going to do. We haven't had our meeting [with the other organizations] yet.''
That's when I knew they were colluding to keep prize money down. I could have owned all of those events. You know that. Could have filed an antitrust action. But the first thing I did was, I went to my tour board members, including the PGA of America guys, and I said, "I know what's been going on. I have proof that you have colluded. You're on my board, and I want you to know this: If you guys don't do the right thing in prize money for your championship, there's going to be hell to pay.'' And they did. That year. They made a huge increase, and all the other ones followed them.
You won most of your matches as a player. Did you feel you won most of these battles in business?
I never thought of it in those terms, because that doesn't work real well. What you want to do in business is leave your--I don't want to say opponent--but leave your partner in a position where he doesn't lose. Because there are ups and downs in business. Sometimes you're at a competitive advantage and sometimes you're at a disadvantage. You want to minimize your downside when you're at a disadvantage. But you do not want to grind your competitor or your partner into the dirt, or he'll do the same thing to you when the cycle turns.
'Hey, sometimes it's tough to do the right thing. It takes courage, soul searching.'
What about the players' opposition to the TPCs and the tour's overall expansion into real estate and marketing? They thought that was infringing on their turf. You faced a big uprising led by Nicklaus and Palmer. Were you surprised?
It didn't come out of the blue. The tour finally had its own championship, just as the PGA and the USGA had theirs. Guess what? Jack and Arnold and those guys were not interested at all in it being an important event. Believe me. They had their own tournaments [the Memorial and Bay Hill], and if the Players Championship became important, it meant that their tournament that they hoped would be the next Masters wasn't going to get there.
__There was a 1983 letter co-signed by Jack and Arnold and written to the chairman of the tour's policy board saying your expansion of the tour's business interests was "unauthorized'' and "ill-conceived.'' Did you see this as a big challenge? __
It was a defining moment for the tour, not so much for me, because there were lots of things I could do. I gave up my career to build the tour. Didn't give it up to run a few tournaments, to be a glorified tournament director. Or to fine players for scratching their asses or saying a few bad words.
It was like a palace revolution, a power struggle.
It wasn't a power struggle. It was a total revolution.
The players thought you had gone too far, too fast.
They didn't say that. "Too far, too fast" implies, "You might be right, but you're going a little fast for us." They wanted me to cease and desist. I got my staff together and said, "Make no mistake about it. We lose this battle, I'm gone.''
We went back to the tour's original charter. There were signatures from Don January and Jack Nicklaus. All the things that we were doing were in the documents, the things Jack said I was unauthorized to do. Jimmy Colbert was on the plane with Jack flying in to the players' meeting at Westchester. Jimmy was on the board. He told him, "Jack, you might not like what we're doing, but you have impugned the integrity of the commissioner and the board. Because the authorization is there, and Jack, your personal signature's on it.''
Don't know what happened there, but at Westchester airport Jack got into Arnold's plane before the meeting. Jack came out, went to the meeting. Arnold got in his plane and flew back to Latrobe. And Jack announced to the players that they withdrew the letter.
__Did it bother you to be opposed so strongly by Jack? You two had been pretty good friends, and here he was being quoted saying, "I'll do everything in my power to stop that man.'' __
Jack isn't any different from any other really good player. He was more notable, therefore he was more quotable. He has strong beliefs. If you don't train yourself to really believe what you perceive, you will not be a winner.
It's real simple for a golfer. You learn not to second-guess yourself. You gain all the facts you can, and you then make a call. If you start second-guessing yourself, you're probably not going to be out there playing, except with your friends. I would be surprised if Jack doesn't believe he was right on this matter to this day.
We've referenced some of the disciplinary action you took over the years. You had a policy of not announcing fines, but a lot of it seemed to get out.
Usually from the players.
Why were you so secretive?
I never thought I was, except with respect to players and discipline. There's plenty of room for disagreement on this. Around 1975, early on after I became commissioner, I attended a conference with the commissioners of other major sports. Pete Rozelle was there for the NFL, Larry O'Brien for the NBA and Bowie Kuhn for baseball. The advice of those commissioners was that early on you need to take disciplinary action with a player and come down hard to establish your authority. So that the public would have a sense you're in control of things. I never bought into that. Because if there's a public announcement of a disciplinary action before the full appeal process plays out, a guy is branded in the public's mind, regardless of whether he's finally found guilty or not.
__How did you feel when Mac O'Grady dubbed you "a thief with a capital T'' for deducting a fine from his tour earnings? __
You've got to understand what happened there. You've got a disciplinary matter, and it escalates. Now the fine has to be paid. If he refuses to pay, your bylaws call for having him suspended. Now you're into major litigation. So I decided to deduct it; he ain't got no lawsuit because he's not being suspended. He can call us names and he can go to small-claims court, but you're not going to spend half a million dollars of the players' money for some guy who's not living up to his responsibilities. That's what we did. I thought it was pretty smart. He didn't like it.
How about Ken Green? He said he was being picked on.
If you throw a putter or break a tee marker or have a habit like that, you probably get caught only one out of five times that you do it. It's hard to have a lot of sympathy for somebody with a reputation for being a bad actor like Ken Green.
How'd you feel when Green would invert your name, call you Beane Demon?
Life is too short to worry about those things.
You had to suspend John Daly in 1993. Was that one of your tougher tasks?
Two things always guided me: If you don't have rules, you don't have a game. And it was absolutely necessary to have reasonable rules of conduct to maintain the proper value and image of golf.
What about your conflicts with Seve Ballesteros back in the mid-1980s, when he was the best player in the world and wanted to pick and choose a limited schedule of tournaments in the U.S.?
He wanted to suit himself and play the European tour off against the U.S. If you allow a player to be a member and treat him differently, then there's no incentive for anybody to be a member. You ain't got no organization.
__Then there was the episode with the senior tour in 1994 involving splitting of purses in unofficial events. [After Beman learned that some players were splitting exhibition money evenly, regardless of results, he fined more than 50 players.] How difficult was that, given your hopes at the time of joining them as a competitor? __
I flew out to a senior tournament, took the events that were being mentioned, got a list of all the players who had played in them. Personally interviewed every player and asked them point-blank, "Did you play in this event, and did you do this?'' Careful not to ask any question that would give them a chance of not telling the truth. And not surprisingly, every player came completely clean. As they were asked these questions, they knew how wrong they were. They may not have acknowledged it, but boy, I can tell you, you look in a guy's heart when you're talking about something like that, you know.
You had no choice but to delve into it?
You always have a choice. I could have minimized it. The media already had. So I knew then the players were really going to be pissed. But even though it only involved unofficial events and did not affect standings or eligibility, it was wrong what they did. And dangerous. It could have destroyed the senior tour. This could have been the worst scandal in golf history. I can now say this, because the statute of limitations is over. In some districts it could have been a felony. If you've got some enterprising district attorney who was running for office and wanted to parade through all these players, then we would have seen how serious it was.
Your father was a PR man. Did you learn much about the business from him?
I think I understand it pretty well, but I'm not a style-over-substance sort of guy. I'm never interested in papering over problems with PR. I'd rather solve the problem.
The players' integrity and image always seemed to be foremost in your mind.
I used to call it a valuable asset, and I've come to realize it's an invaluable asset. It's the thing that sets the tour apart from all other sports. I believe it even more every time I see another basketball brawl.
__Toward the end of your tenure you were making more than the leading money-winners did in on-course earnings. Using that formula, based on Vijay Singh's $10 million in 2004, Finchem would be making $20 million or more. So is Finchem underpaid, or were you overpaid? __
I don't believe he's quite up in that bracket. [Laughs.] I'm not sure I like the design of your question, though. When I took the job, I worked for a pittance; I was making more as a player. The first 10 or 12 years I was substantially underpaid; in fact, up until 1986 my compensation was still under $200,000. In my later years I was making more based on my tenure and in recognition of what I had produced. I'd say it was a fair exchange if you average it out.
What were your biggest mistakes?
I didn't do everything right, obviously. There were some ventures that didn't work out in the short term. It took two failed starts before we got what is now the Nationwide Tour going. Not every Tournament Players Club was an absolutely rousing success from the outset.
I recall being asked this exact question at a player meeting in the late 1980s. I said, "After 14 or 15 years I've probably made $10 million worth of mistakes. But during that same span, I probably made half a billion worth of good decisions." I'll take that.
Let's hit some other topics. Do you watch much golf on television?
Not a lot. I watch periodically.
What do you make of Johnny Miller? He's gotten a lot of attention for breaking the mold of an analyst, being so outspoken.
I don't call Johnny Miller outspoken. Johnny Miller has a negative attitude that he displays to me every day that he's broadcasting. He displays why he quit early, because that's the way he thought.
You hear that in his comments?
You listen to him. He's there to do a lot of things, but one of the things is to give the audience insight into how a player is thinking. He's the player who's been there. Well, I'm telling you, what he's doing is telling you how he was thinking and how he'd be thinking, which tells you exactly why he quit early. If he thought that way, that's why he went down the road a lot earlier than he should have.
But he makes it interesting.
He's not giving you the true picture of what the player is thinking. Whether it's controversial or not is quite another matter. Death makes a good headline, right? [Laughs.]
One of the issues that you dealt with as commissioner involved equipment, the square-grooves case against Karsten Manufacturing. Why did you tackle that?
We felt that it affected performance. It affected the great balance of the game. It played into the hands of the stronger, longer hitters who didn't hit the fairways consistently but weren't being punished as much because square grooves spin the ball better out of the rough.
What was the player reaction during that suit when they found out their pension funds might be exposed if you had lost?
Some players were nervous because of the size of the lawsuit: $100 million. That figure will scare a lot of people. I was never nervous about losing it, because I was confident we had not done anything unreasonable. We also had some insurance that would have covered substantial portions in a worst-case scenario.
You didn't feel you could rely on the USGA to take care of the square grooves?
We stood by for quite a while waiting for them, and we made a determination that they weren't going to do anything. We finally did prevail, from the standpoint that the suit was settled and there was a full acknowledgment from Ping that we have authority to make our own rules. But for the USGA to now say, "Oh, we don't want to spend any of our millions to fight any of these issues, the PGA Tour ought to do this'' ... The money is worth nothing if it isn't used to preserve the game. Hey, sometimes it's tough to do the right thing. It takes courage, soul searching.
The game's current ruling bodies seem reluctant or afraid to rein in equipment as you suggest is needed. But do you feel you bear any responsibility for their fear by the way you handled the Karsten case and left the tour under restrictions about acting on equipment?
No, because what you've just said is not correct. I maintain we got something very valuable and worthwhile: We won recognition of the right to make and administer our own rules about what you play with.
Could the PGA Tour make its own rules on the ball?
Yeah, they could, but it's harder for the tour, being a player organization. There are factions of players: big players, little players, famous players, not-so-famous players, all having a personal stake in the outcome.
Because of their endorsement contracts?
Endorsements is a secondary issue. I'm just talking about their ability to perform with the equipment they're playing with. I'm not saying they can't do it. Not saying they shouldn't. The way we set up checks and balances within the organization, there's a big screening of all issues that come through the players.
__During the heat of your battles with the players you came out with this: "You've got to be thick-skinned when you're looking at the green with a 4-wood in your hand.'' Could that be your epitaph? __
Actually, it's not just that you've got a 4-wood but that your opponent is hitting a 9-iron. [Laughs.] So that's not a bad one