Golf is the great humbler, and as he labors on the fringes of the Senior tour, Deane Beman looks nothing like the person he was three years ago, when he was the most powerful man in the game. His drives, short even when he was winning two U.S. Amateurs in the 1960s, now are often crooked as well. His odd swing, once living testimony to form following function, has been rendered ragged by the sharp pain in his left shoulder. In the locker room, where camaraderie abounds among warhorses sharing the ultimate mulligan, Beman's presence causes eyes to be averted and conversations to stop. It would seem that at 59 the little big man, who for 20 years as commissioner of the PGA Tour always got his way, is finally getting his.
Or not. Beman might be shooting embarrassingly high scores, and his body might be falling apart, and, yes, he is reviled by a significant number of his fellow competitors, but on balance there isn't anything that he would rather be doing. Beman considers competitive golf a noble calling, and all the time that he was in boardrooms leading the sport to the big time, a part of him longed to be outside, sweating five-footers. Beman the player was always called a journeyman, but he takes great pride in his eight-year career on Tour. During that time, on the strength of a four-wood, a putter and unmatched tenacity, he won four tournaments before becoming commissioner full time in 1974. "To be out there is like no other experience," he wrote longingly in 1989, in the introduction to The History of the PGA Tour. "I've been out there and I know." So when asked why he's punishing himself by persevering on the Senior tour, Beman leans across the table, his normally stoic face losing its hard edge. "I wanted my life back," he says in an even voice. "I wanted to do something I love." Beman does not miss being commissioner, and while he and his successor and former deputy, Tim Finchem, remain friends, the break from the Tour has been clean. Beman's entire focus is again on competition. "I like the disappointment."
If so, Beman has had plenty to like since joining the Senior tour late in the '94 season. In 48 events he has finished under par only 10 times and higher than 24th just four times. In 133 rounds he has broken 70 on 17 occasions. His stroke average is 72.93, more than two strokes higher than the top Senior players'. Because he isn't among the top 70 alltime money winners in combined earnings (he's 116th), because he has never been among the top 31 in earnings in a Senior season (his best was 62nd, in 1995) and because he failed to finish in the top eight of the Senior Q school (he was 52nd in his only attempt, in 1995), Beman must rely almost exclusively on sponsor exemptions to play in tournaments.
Beman was hurt by his decision to delay his Senior career—he says he needed to see through several of the projects he began as commissioner—until he was 56. When he tried to catch up through heavy practice, he almost immediately had to contend with arthritis in his back. Beman played hurt, and poorly. At one point last summer he withdrew from three straight events after the first round. In the fall, after finally receiving the proper medication for his back, Beman had his best finish as a Senior, a fifth in the Kaanapali Classic. But his ability to make a full shoulder turn stressed other muscles, and he has been able to play in only two tournaments this season, finishing 38th in the American Express Invitational in Sarasota, Fla., and 76th in the Toshiba Senior Classic in March in Newport Beach, Calif., before having to leave the tour for a month to rehab a frayed left biceps tendon. He hopes to play in next week's World Seniors Invitational in Charlotte, N.C.
"I have no regrets about not coming to the tour earlier," Beman says. "It would have been wrong, and it simply wasn't an option. I underestimated how unprepared my body was to take the pounding. I believe if I had been reasonably healthy when I started out, I would've had more success and my situation today would be different. But it is what it is."
Above all, Beman's situation is the most ironic in golf: The person responsible for the formation and growth of the Senior tour, for providing over-the-hill pros with a 44-event arena worth more than $41 million in purses, is the most despised figure on it.
It's not that people think Beman didn't do a good job as commissioner. "Anyone who says that is crazy," says Dave Stockton. Most players acknowledge that the only person who has done more for the growth of the game is Arnold Palmer. Yet while Palmer is revered, Beman is ostracized.
At the 1995 Legends of Golf, in which Beman was partnered with Bud Allin, Allin says he was offered $10,000 by a member of the Senior tour to intentionally play poorly. Allin, who will not name the player who made the offer, declined. He and Beman tied for 10th.
"It was just conversation," says Allin. "Nobody ever put up the money. But Deane has pissed off a lot of the players. In fact, the only reason I got into the tournament was because the last spot left was as Deane's partner. Nobody wanted to play with him. I played, but not because we're friends. The whole week we said about 10 words to each other. Deane fined me four or five times for my temper back on the regular Tour, but I don't have a grudge over that. He was doing his job. It's just that with that job, he could never make friends."
Other players, however, do hold grudges. "I've asked some players if they would go to dinner with Deane, and when they say no, I ask why," says Terry Dill, one of Beman's few close friends on the Senior tour. "Their answer is some variation of 'Well, you know what that sumbitch did?' "