FOX Sports Exclusive
Bean marks Bay Hill anniversary
Fourteen players didn’t break 80 on a brutally difficult windswept Thursday at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
They included reigning U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell, who learned the game in the wind of Royal Portrush, the exciting young Venezuelan Jhonny Vegas and golfers of the caliber of Boo Weekley, Jeff Overton, Ricky Barnes and Brandt Snedeker.
Not among the obituaries, though, was Andy Bean.
Bean is 58 and, we shall kindly say, somewhat above his fighting weight these days.
His shirt sweated through, the big man looked like he’d crossed the Valley of Death as he trudged off Bay Hill in the late afternoon.
His feet hurt. Lots of things hurt when you’re 58.
But there was no wiping the smile off his face.
Bean was in the field to commemorate the 30th anniversary of his victory at Bay Hill. He hasn’t played on the PGA Tour since 2003. He hasn’t won on the PGA Tour since 1986.
“Let’s face it, I’m a Champions Tour player these days,” he says in his warm, trademark Southern drawl.
“I know that.”
But when Palmer asked him to play, what was he going to say?
“I’ll do anything I can to support Mr Palmer,” he says.
But those who thought his first Bay Hill appearance in nine years would be as some kind of a ceremonial player were in for a shock.
“Anyone who thought that would be wrong, and they don’t know Andy Bean very well,” he says.
“When I don’t have that drive to compete anymore, if I can’t score anymore, well, you won’t be seeing me. I’ll go fishin’.
“I wanted to come out here and play well. I wanted to come out and represent myself well.”
There’s pride in Andy Bean and sometimes he forgets he’s in an old body.
“There were times out there today when it felt just like yesterday that I was out here with these guys,” he says.
“But there were times when it felt like a very long time ago, too.
“I’d look at some of these drives and I remembered when the shoe was on the other foot and it sure don’t feel good on this foot!”
Bean started the day with three early bogeys. It didn’t look promising.
The conditions were getting worse. The greens were the most unpalatable combination possible, firm and bumpy. The rough’s up compared to what he’s used to on the senior circuit and the course is at least 400 yards longer than any track he usually plays.
“But I’m a fighter, y’know,” he says. “Always have been.”
He made three birdies, some big up-and-downs and found himself at even par through 14 holes.
“I can imagine Arnold looking at that scoreboard, saying, ‘Go!’, but unfortunately I did go … in the wrong direction,” he says.
He finished the day with a 2-over-par 74, in a tie for 46th.
“Dang, I gave those two shots away,” he says to no one in particular. “It could’ve been better. I really didn’t play that good.”
Given the players who teed off in the morning got a much easier go of it, 74 was a sterling performance.
Bean beat his playing partners, Brandt Jobe (77) and Japan’s Yuta Ikeda (84) by a combined 13 strokes.
“He has such a great attitude which you need in conditions like these. It was really enjoyable watching him today,” said Jobe.
“I tell you this: He didn’t play like he was here to make up the numbers. Knowing him, he came out here to see where he stacks up. And you know what? Today he stacked up pretty damned good.”
Bean’s not dreaming of winning at 58, but he‘s not ruling anything out, either.
“When I won here, most of these guys weren’t even born,” he says.
“But do I think I can make the cut? Of course, I do. I have to play well, because these guys are the best in the world, but if I play well, I’ll be OK.”
Bean tees off early on Friday, when the winds will be down.
“If I play good and the wind kicks up in the afternoon like it did today, then I’ll really be OK,” he says with a big smile.
In that sentiment, he sounded like Tiger Woods.
Woods shot 73 in the afternoon on Thursday to fall seven shots behind first-round leader Spencer Levin.
As has been his wont for too long, he couldn’t get off the tee. He didn’t hit a single fairway on the front nine and finished with only four of 14.
He hit his irons relatively well but again putted poorly, taking 32 putts.
Woods’ stroke looks different. The backstroke’s shorter and the tempo’s fast.
All of that said, he’s still in the hunt for a seventh Bay Hill title.
“Most of the low scores were this morning, so I’m still right there in the ballgame,” he said.
Him and Andy Bean.
More Stories From Robert Lusetich