Bean Is a Kid Again at 50

Times Staff Writer

The door to the players' lounge swings open and a 6-foot-4, 250-pound man walks in, dwarfing everyone else in the room.

The chatter quiets as players look up from their lunches at the latest addition to the Champions Tour.

"Andy Bean, ladies and gentlemen," says Hubert Green, eliciting laughter and a round of applause, followed by jokes, ribbing, and an exchange of back-in-the-day stories.

Thus, Bean, an 11-time PGA Tour winner who turned 50 last week, was welcomed to a circuit he officially joins today in the first round of the Toshiba Senior Classic at Newport Beach Country Club.

"This is what I missed," said Bean, grinning like a little boy at recess as he shook hands with old friends. "Just hanging around with the guys."

In his prime, Bean was among the top players in the game. He won six times from 1977 through 1980 and was selected for the 1979 and '87 Ryder Cup teams. A prodigious hitter before metal woods became popular, Bean could tear apart a golf course by using all the length his massive frame could muster.

A feared competitor who finished second to Jack Nicklaus in the 1980 PGA Championship and was runner-up to Tom Watson in the 1983 British Open, Bean finished among the top 10 money winners five times in nine seasons from 1978 to '86, but he gave up playing full time in 1987 so he could help raise his three daughters.

Even though it might have cost him a couple of prime years, a chance to win a major and millions in prize money, Bean doesn't regret the decision to taper his career at age 34.

"I could have kept playing, but then I wouldn't really know my daughters the way I do," he said. "Money could never replace the good times and the bad times I've had with my family."

Bean spent his time watching his daughters, now 20, 19 and 17, play volleyball, soccer and basketball. He'd drive them to and from school and help them with homework in the evenings.

The slow-talking Southerner always preferred a quiet fishing hole to the glitz of the PGA Tour anyway, and the Champions Tour made his decision much easier.

"Fortunately, I was able to do all that and now I get to be able to come back out here and play golf again," Bean said. "Shoot, that's a pretty good deal."

With all but the youngest daughter in college, Bean has rededicated himself to playing full time. He will play about 22 events this year, then increase his schedule to about 26 or 28 over the next two years.

His debut is welcomed by fellow competitors.

"Every tour, every team needs stars, you know," Allen Doyle said. "Whether Andy is the guy to do it or not we'll find out shortly. I think we're curious to see how he's gonna do. If he were to come out and grab the bull by the horns, that would be a good thing for [the tour]."

Bruce Lietzke made a decision similar to Bean's when he left the PGA Tour in his prime. He admires Bean for doing the same.

"I think priorities change," Lietzke said. "Kids come along and you're happily married and you mature and somewhere along the line you find out that golf is not life and death."

Bean hopes maturity will spill over into his golf game. With the power game he had in his youth, he played with an aggressive go-for-broke style that sometimes got him in trouble.

"If the pin was in a five-gallon bucket, I was gonna hit it at the flag," Bean said.

He also had a bit of a temper. He once missed a six-foot birdie putt in a tournament, dropped his putter and then tapped the ball in with the grip end of the club. Penalized two strokes, he ended up losing the tournament by two.

Another time, he was so upset about missing a short putt that he chewed the cover off a golf ball.

Age, he said, has mellowed him -- but only a little.

"I think I'll still be aggressive and I'll get in trouble a few times when I shouldn't," he said. "The more patient I am the faster my learning curve is going to be. But hey, sometimes that's just not real easy for me to do."


The Facts

What: Toshiba Senior Classic, a 54-hole Champions Tour event.

When: Today-Sunday.

Where: Newport Beach Country Club, 1600 East Pacific Coast Highway, Newport Beach.

Who: 81 professional players, including defending champion Hale Irwin, Tom Watson, Tom Kite, Fuzzy Zoeller, Ben Crenshaw, Ray Floyd and Chi Chi Rodriguez.

Television: Today, the Golf Channel, 2-4:30 p.m.; Saturday-Sunday, CNBC, 3-5 p.m.

Purse: $1.55 million. The winner receives $232,500.

Tickets: $20 per day, available at tournament admission gates.

Parking: $8 at the Newport Beach Dunes; free in select lots adjacent to Fashion Island.

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