He was a golfer good enough to finish second in the Masters. A golfer perplexed enough to give up the game to become an insurance salesman. A golfer persistent enough to rework the swing which had defeated him.
Chip Beck was the second person to shoot 59 in a PGA Tour event — indeed, he could play. He probably wasn’t the first to find he couldn’t drive a ball straight off the tee, and that flaw drove him out of golf and into the so-called real world of 7:24 a.m. commutes and office hours.
In so short a time, Beck became a star and then a virtual nobody, as in “Whatever happened to Chip Beck?”
What happened was his back went out and his swing went bad, and as he pointed out, with a wife and six children, he had to find a way to make a living if the way wasn’t down the fairway — or in his case, out of the rough.
That Beck, 56, is one of the 30 eligible players from the Champions Tour — nee Seniors Tour — who will be competing in the Charles Schwab Cup Championship starting Thursday at TPC Harding Park verifies he has overcome his demons.
Beck was a journalism major at the University of Georgia — we won’t hold that against him — who in effect planned to write his stories with a 5-iron and a putter. Some tales.
Twenty years ago, Oct. 11, 1991, Beck made 13 birdies and no bogies in the Las Vegas Invitational, becoming then along with Al Geiberger only the second player ever to break 60 on Tour.
A couple years later he became even more famous. Or should that be infamous? Trailing Bernhard Langer by a couple shots in the last round of the 1993 Masters, at the supposedly reachable par-5 15th, Beck laid up, parred the hole and was ripped up by the media for timidity.
“I hit a fade,” Beck explained of his normal left-to-right shot pattern. “I had revamped my game for Augusta to hit an open-face draw. I had around 250 yards into the wind that second shot [over a pond], so I wasn’t going to make it over.
“When I got finished changing things, I was messed up, burned out trying to find the ball.”
So at age 47, he found a new occupation. Living in Lake Forest, Ill., a Chicago suburb, Beck swallowed his pride and altered his plans.
“It was kind of sad, but great,” said Beck, someone without discernable ego. “It wasn’t as if I was Jack Nicklaus and people wondered where I had gone. When I left nobody knew it. It wasn’t that great a loss to golf.
“But for me, it was the best thing that ever happened, a blessing in disguise. I had been on the road my whole life, and started spending time with my family.”
Yet the dream persisted. Instructor Jim Sutie taught Beck a swing which kept pressure off the back and also a swing which kept the ball on the short grass.
“When I came back out,” said Beck of joining the Champions Tour in 2006 and earning $505,000 the first year, “I saw myself as a golfer again.”
We’ll never think of him as anything else.
Art Spander has been covering Bay Area sports since 1965 and also writes on www.artspander.com and www.realclearsports.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.