Illinois: Seven years after holding off Tiger Woods to seal a shock victory at the US PGA Championship, Rich Beem returns to the familiar surrounds of Hazeltine National searching for form at this week's edition.
The ever-smiling American will play with Woods and defending champion Padraig Harrington for the first two rounds on the ultra-long layout and he plans to make the most of his high-profile pairing.
"It kind of narrows your focus a little bit," Beem, 38, told reporters at Hazeltine on Tuesday. "Certainly playing with both of those gentlemen, who played extremely well last week, they do drag you along with them, which is nice."
Woods and Irishman Harrington duelled for the elite WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in Akron, Ohio on Sunday before the American world number one triumphed by four strokes.
"Lord knows I need some help right now," said Beem, who won the most recent of his three PGA Tour titles at the 2002 PGA Championship and has missed eight cuts on the circuit this season.
"My game is not the sharpest it's been in a while but I'm looking forward to going out there and playing with those two gentlemen.”
"I'm really looking forward to going out and playing a golf course that I've had success on and really enjoy playing."
Beem, who briefly quit golf to sell car stereos and cell phones, stunned the golfing world with his one-shot victory in 2002 when Hazeltine was a monstrous 7,360 yards off the back tees.
It has since been lengthened by more than 300 yards, making it the longest layout to stage a major championship.
"It's just excessively long and it's nowhere near the same golf course that it was," Beem said of the 7,674-yard course.
"But it's still a fair test of golf. I'm sure we won't play it at the full 7600 yards that it can play, but I would imagine we're going to have a healthy test out there with our long irons this week."
Despite his struggle for form in recent years, Beem believes he is a much wiser person than the relative unknown who held off a charging Woods at Hazeltine in 2002.
"This championship really changed my life," he recalled. "Everything happened so fast and so quickly and so unexpectedly, how do you prepare for it all?”
"I handled some things exceptionally well and I handled some things not so well. But I wouldn't trade any of my experiences from what happened back in 2002 for anything. I have grown up because of it in a lot of ways."
First Published: Wednesday, August 12, 2009, 09:21