Deane Beman earned more than $370,000 playing golf, but no winnings were harder to collect than the $2 he took from a U.S. president.
Beman had just beaten George H.W. Bush, a close friend, and was set to collect when Bush said, "Let's go back and play the [18th] hole for that two dollars."
Beman agreed. They played again, and tied the hole.
"I thought that was it until [Bush] said, 'Let's play it again, from the 150-yard marker.' We did — and tied again. Then he said, 'Let's do it again, from 100 yards.' "
"Hey, Mr. President," he said, "you owe me two dollars, and I want it."
"He coughed it up," Beman said, laughing, "but he was damn reluctant."
Now 79, Beman, a Hall of Famer who grew up in Bethesda, still plays daily to a handicap of 4 or 5.
"I must hit 1,000 balls a week," he said. He caught the bug at 13, when his father decided the whole family — his wife and four children — would learn the game.
"Dad went to Sears and bought six sets of clubs," Beman said. "We had one group lesson. That was it."
A year later, Beman entered a junior tournament at Congressional Country Club, in Bethesda. He shot 113. Discouraged? Hardly. Come summer, he played regularly at the Bethesda Country Club, walking the two miles from home and hitting a golf ball the whole way down Bradley Boulevard.
"Never hit a car," he said. "I was pretty accurate."
At 15, having medaled at the U.S. Junior Championships, he took part in an exhibition with the celebrated Ben Hogan, three-time PGA Player of the Year. Beman finished three strokes back. The golf world took note of the sandy-haired prodigy. Twice, while in high school, he competed in the U.S. Open.
At 5 feet 7 and 155 pounds, Beman made up in putting what he lacked in power.
"I was a grinder, nothing spectacular," he said. "I didn't hit it that far, but i had pretty good control — and confidence."
Maryland gave him a golf scholarship. There, in 1958, Beman celebrated his 20th birthday by shooting a 64 at Prince Georges Golf and Country Club — then the lowest amateur score ever at the course — to lead the Terps past George Washington. The next year, he won the British Amateur, the youngest American ever to do so. More than 1,500 fans met him at Washington's National Airport, including Beman's dad, who presented his son with a new car.
Beman won two U.S. Amateur titles, in 1960 and 1963, before a hand injury slowed his game.
"It took me until 1967 to find the right surgeon to fix it," he said. That done, he turned pro and won four tournaments before undergoing another hand surgery in 1972. Offered the post of PGA Tour commissioner in 1974, Beman accepted. Then 35, he'd been selling insurance since college and had a keen eye for business.
Beman held that job for 20 years, during which pro golf blossomed. On his watch, purses climbed from $8.1 million to $56.4 million.
"When I started, bowling got more television revenue than golf. That's how minor a sport we were," he said. "I was able to develop the start of the Senior Tour, the players' pension plan and the TV model that we use today. Most important, I helped transform golf into a major sport while keeping the integrity of the game intact."
In 2000, Beman was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame, which he'd help establish.
He and his wife, Judy, have homes in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, and Kennebunkport, Maine. Beman remains active off the course: he's organizing a national charity golf tournament that he hopes will tee off within two years.
"Golf is a microcasm of the real world," he said. "Life isn't perfect and no golf round is, either. Overcoming failure, and being able to strategically develop a plan to start the next day with a clean scorecard, is the essence of a successful life."