THE BRITISH OPEN : DEANE BEMAN IS TEEING IT UP : PGA Tour Commissioner Is Just Another Player in the British Open

Times Staff Writer

Complaints, complaints. Deane Beman has heard hundreds--from Severiano Ballesteros having his U.S. golf tour playing card jerked, to Mac O'Grady getting fined $5,000 and suspended six weeks for a colorful vocabulary, to a Bob Hope Desert Classic spectator determined to sue House Speaker Tip O'Neill for conking him with a golf ball. Beman has encountered the gripes of wrath.

During 12 years as sovereign of the American pro golf tour, Beman has handled delicate matters and adjudicated hot disputes in his own particular manner, described by Jack Nicklaus with words such as aggressive and feisty.

But for a week, at least, the PGA Tour commissioner is just another golfer.

All he wants to do is play in the British Open, which he will, beginning today. It is the first significant tournament that Beman has entered since the Walt Disney World tour stop at Orlando, Fla., in December 1973. He has played in a couple of relatively minor European events that helped him prepare for Turnberry.

Beman, 48, played in a British Open qualifying event last week at nearby Western Gailes and got the job done.

"I don't think I'm lucky to be in this tournament," he said Wednesday, after a final dress rehearsal with Tom Watson, Lee Trevino and Nicklaus. "I've earned my way by playing good, solid golf."

This is no comeback. It is just a bit of wish fulfillment for Beman, who does not regret retiring from the American tour to run it. He simply felt like trying his hand again, as a "personal challenge." He said he nearly entered the U.S. Open last month at Shinnecock Hills, as well.

"I really hadn't had a break from my job in 12 years," he said.

A four-time tour winner in his playing days, the commissioner does not intend to enter any regular tour event in the future but might try a couple of majors each year.

Beman's practice for the past few months was slowed by a pulled back muscle that kept him flat on his back for a few days. Old bones were creaking, he said. And since he had not walked 18 holes since 1975, it also took quite a while for Beman's legs to lose their rust.

Now, he feels ready to play. But even he admits that his game might not be good enough to conquer Turnberry--"the most severe test of golf that I've seen."

This course is giving chills to even the hottest golfers. Greg Norman said Wednesday: "It's probably the toughest golf course for a major tournament I've ever played."

Norman went on to repeat a discussion he'd had with U.S. Open champion Raymond Floyd regarding the Turnberry rough, which is thick enough to render a ball unplayable. "I agree with having the toughest conditions within reason, but I don't agree with having rough where you can't advance the ball," Norman said.

He and Floyd got to chatting about the possible dangers involved. It takes such a swat to lift a ball from that rough, these golfers agreed, that anything from broken wrists to pulled tendons were possible. Who, they wondered, would be responsible for such injuries? The course? The players? The officials of golf?

"It may happen someday," Norman said. "And what caused it? The rough? The Establishment? We were just having a conversation about it because, you know, everybody in America is suing somebody right now. Right? Like I read about this guy in L.A. who was robbing a guy's home and slipped down some stairs and sued the guy he was robbing. Got some money, too, I think."

Michael Bonallack, secretary of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, governing body of international golf, got a kick out of Norman's whimsy. "If you hit it into a bush, you can't blame us for putting a bush there," he said.

Asked if the Royal and Ancient were insured, just in case, Bonallack said: "We're indemnified for everything. Don't tell them that, though. It might invalidate our insurance."

To such extracurricular nonsense, Deane Beman gave a look, as in: Don't look at me. I'm just a player.

He did say, though, with a laugh: "Yes, once I was named in a suit. It was three or four years ago, when one of Tip O'Neill's shots hit somebody (at the Hope). The man sued me for allowing an obviously unqualified player to play."

For a week, Beman would like to forget all complaints. Other players, he said, have responded well to this fairly trivial pursuit of his, and have been encouraging.

Would he feel awkward if he should make the cut after two rounds and by chance be paired with Ballesteros or O'Grady?

"I've never felt awkward paired with anybody in my life," Beman said.

Of course, he still hasn't had to play with O'Neill.

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