Chip Beck is one of golf’s true good guys … as well as an accomplished player with an impressive resume: 3-time All-American at the University of Georgia, 3-time Ryder Cup team member, 4 PGA Tour victories with 20 runner-up finishes. And then there was that nifty 59 he shot in the 1991 Las Vegas Invitational. It was my great pleasure to have the following golf conversation with Chip.
Golf Conversations: How did you get introduced to golf?
Chip Beck: My mother started me when I was ten years old. She came to my room at 6:30 in the morning and said, “Chip, there’s a golf clinic going on and I’d like you to participate.” I said, “Mom, I’m so tired, could I do it another time?” She said, “Try it and if you don’t like it, then you don’t have to do it again.” I remember the first shot I hit. It was really cool. It was a lot of fun and I kept going.
GC: So you caught the bug immediately. You must have hit a good shot. Do you recall the shot?
CB: I remember hitting 8-irons up in the air.
GC: Up in the air?
CB: I couldn’t believe how far it went. It was amazing.
GC: You know from being around amateurs all your life … for a beginner to get an iron shot in the air immediately is virtually impossible. Obviously, you had some great natural talent. How long did it take you to start making a decent score?
CB: I was in a pee-wee tournament that summer at the Highland Country Club in Fayetteville. I won that. I don’t remember what I shot, probably 40-50, something like that. From the time I was ten, until the time I was nineteen, I never missed more than three days of golf. We had competitions every day, at least nine holes … even during the school year. When I was in junior high school, I was the 6th man on the high school team and I had good matches all along.
GC: When did you first break par?
CB: When I was twelve, I shot 70. From the red tees at Highland Country Club. That was pretty cool, I thought.
GC: Uh, yeah!
At what point did you start thinking, “Hmm, maybe I could be a professional golfer?”
CB: At the end of that summer, in 1967, Jack Nicklaus had already won probably seven majors. But he wasn’t on the Ryder Cup team in ’67, so Raymond brought him to Fayetteville, North Carolina for the grand opening of his father’s golf course, Cypress Lakes.
GC: You’re referring to Raymond Floyd.
CB: Yes. I remember going out there to watch them and walking behind them into the locker room. I remember everything about it and thought, “Wow, this is what I want to do.” And Raymond gave me 30 brand-new Wilson Staff golf balls. I went back there when L.B. Floyd [editor’s note: L.B. Floyd was Raymond Floyd’s father] was passing away. L.B. helped me in ‘85/’86 when he was teaching me to play golf, helping me with my game, giving me a place to play.
When I went to see him, he said, “Chip, the greatest day of my life is when you and Raymond finished one-two in the US Open.” That really made me feel good. Then I went back into that locker room where I followed Raymond and Jack when I was ten. The smell hit me, it was just like it was when I was ten.
GC: L.B. Floyd was giving you lessons. Did he teach you how to play the game?
CB: When I lost my sponsor in 1985, he called me and said, “Chip, I think I can help you and I’d love for you to play at Cypress Lakes.” That’s what we did; he helped me a lot, too.
GC: But when you were a youngster, from ten to sixteen, how did you learn how to play the game? Did you have a teacher?
CB: Ronnie Reitz taught me the grip the first day. He was the club pro at Highland. Tony Evans came in shortly thereafter in ’68 or ’69. He taught me most of my life. He even helped me with my putting at the SAS Championship. He played the Tour, he led the US Open in 1970 when Tony Jacklin won at Hazeltine.
GC: Did you get college scholarship offers?
CB: Tony Evans introduced me to a man named Jack Parks. Jack was a University of Georgia graduate and he would take me to golf tournaments. He drove me to a tournament in Alabama when I was thirteen; that was the first time I met Dick Copas, who was the coach at Georgia.
I wanted to go to University of North Carolina most of my life because my dad went there, but Carolina didn’t have a scholarship for and me Georgia did so I went to Georgia … and it worked out great.
GC: And you did well there. You were an All-American for several years.
CB: Yes. The biggest win I had was when I played in the All-America Tournament in Houston my sophomore year. That was our biggest tournament outside the NCAA and I won it. That made me first team All-American. That put me on the map.
GC: What did it feel like when you were up against real competition as opposed to the golfers you met in high school?
CB: I progressed pretty well from the time I was fifteen when I won my first state tournament. I won the Carolina Junior a couple of times. I knew that college players were better and more consistent. I knew I had to play hard. One thing you learn about coming up through the ranks, you don’t worry about what other people are doing, you just try to keep doing the best you can and keep trying to improve every way you can and give it all you have. If you can do that, then generally you can get ahead.
So you have to go with your talent … there’s always somebody better. What’s interesting, a lot of guys that were a lot better and beat everybody ended up giving the game up or getting involved in other things in their lives. Most of it is just determination when you get to college and beyond. It takes a certain type of personality that wants to give up so much to pursue a career in golf. You’re living on the road; a lot of people don’t want that circus lifestyle.
GC: When you started playing the Tour, it was a lot more difficult than it is today in terms of courtesy cars, making travel arrangements for the players, etc.
CB: Oh, yeah. We had to buy our own golf balls, get our own rental cars. And there wasn’t that much money in it as well. I finished 9th and 10th in the US Open in the ‘80s and didn’t even make $10,000. My first year on Tour in 1979, I didn’t even make $7,000 that year. We didn’t play for much money. We played because we loved the game and we enjoyed it. The money didn’t really come in until the ‘90s.
GC: While you were at Georgia, did you know you wanted to be a professional golfer?
CB: I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do. A coach from a school in Baltimore sent me a letter that said, “It’s not the profession that makes the man, it’s the man that makes the profession.” He really inspired me to move ahead and try it.
GC: That letter motivated you to try professional golf?
CB: It really did. It made me go for it.
GC: What happened after you graduated from Georgia? Did they have the Q School back then?
CB: They did. I went to Waterwood National in Houston, Texas in the Fall of 1978. I finished second in that qualifier to Jim Thorpe and started the Tour in January of ’79.
GC: You made your card your first trip through Q School. That’s impressive. What was your first year like on Tour?
CB: Very challenging. I played my first tournament in Greensboro with a sponsor’s exemption. I didn’t make a check until I got to the Western Open in July. I finished 24th or something like that and made $1400. I was pretty excited at that point.
GC: Do you recall what your weekly expenses were?
CB: Our caddies were probably 30 bucks a days, our rooms were 30 bucks a night. It wasn’t real high so that was the good news.
GC: Were you driving from tournament to tournament?
CB: Generally, yeah. They had it set up so you could drive.
GC: You didn’t have your private jet at that point?
CB: No, we didn’t have any of that. We were just trying to make ends meet and keep moving forward.
GC: Your first year on Tour, did you bump into any of the big names: Mr. Palmer, Mr. Nicklaus?
CB: What was really nice about my experience on Tour was that Raymond Floyd knew me. He would invite me to his party at Doral every year at his private home. And I was the only rookie there, the only young guy there. He’d have all the CBS brass, all the top players like Nicklaus. I met a lot of people that way.
GC: You mentioned earlier that you had to buy your own golf balls.
CB: We had to pay for range balls. It was a different ball game back then.
GC: When you played a Tour event, they had range pickers, didn’t they? They weren’t using caddies to shag balls?
CB: Some places they did have caddies shagging range balls. It was pretty nice the first time when they’d give us the balls for free. That was a treat for us.
CB: In those instances when you had to pay for your range balls, did that discourage players from practicing a lot?
CB: We never thought of it that way. It was just another expense for playing golf.
GC: What kind of clubs were you playing that first year?
CB: Wilson. Most people in North Carolina at that time played Wilson clubs.
GC: Was Wilson paying you to be a staff member? Did they give you the clubs or did you have to buy your clubs?
CB: I think they probably gave me a little money and they gave me the equipment.
GC: I believe in the mid-‘60s the only endorsement deal players got was wearing an Amana logo hat.
CB: Oh, yeah. I actually caught a little piece of that. Amana paid me $10,000 a year which was a lot of money back then.
GC: Did they also throw in a washing machine?
CB: I’m sure they’d give you a deal on that!
GC: I noticed in one of your videos that you were a Hogan staff player. Did you ever meet Mr. Hogan?
CB: I did and he was just as polite and kind as can be. It was a pleasure meeting him.
GC: How did he go about selecting which players he wanted as Hogan staff players?
CB: He had Tour reps that kind of scoped out all the players. I got a chance to meet him during the Colonial tournament in Fort Worth. I actually shot my 59 using Hogan equipment.
GC: After your first year on Tour, what happened?
CB: I went back to Qualifying School, finished second again, and just kept moving forward. I was wondering if I was doing the right thing but I just kept going because I enjoyed it and liked the competition. I had a family to support and I had to keep going. I realized that in golf, you can’t look back. I quit worrying about it and gave it all I had.
GC: When did you start meeting with some success?
CB: The first time I qualified for the US Open, I was playing Pebble Beach. I hit it into the barranca. My ball was sitting right between two pieces of limestone on a tuft of grass. I took an 8-iron and knocked it out of there; then hit a 5-iron on the green and left my putt just short and thought, “Uh, oh, I missed the top-ten to qualify for the Masters.” It turned out I qualified right on the nose.
GC: Was that the 18th hole?
CB: Yeah, at Pebble Beach. In ’82.
GC: How was your first Masters?
CB: I remember the first tee shot was pretty exciting!
I don’t think I hit the fairway. It was exciting; there were lot of great players then.
GC: Did you ever feel intimidated by any particular player?
CB: Oh, yeah. The first time I played with Raymond, I was playing in the US Open with him. I started out bogey-bogey-double or something like that. I hit up next to a tree and had to chip out. Raymond came over and put his hand around my shoulder and said, “Chip, just settle down, man. Don’t worry about it. Just stick close to me, ride close to me, I’ll take you right to the top ‘cause I’m gonna win this tournament today.” I always appreciated that. He was my boyhood idol.
GC: That was very nice. Was that the year he won at Shinnecock?
CB: No, that was in ’86. This was probably 1980 when Nicklaus won. Yeah, Raymond was a great guy that way. He could have said nothing to me and let me go down the drain, but he was very kind. He was always good to me. The first time I played in the Ryder Cup he was the captain and he said, “You and Zinger have earned your spot on this team. Go hard, we’re counting on you.” Raymond knew you were only as strong as your weakest link. Paul Azinger and I were a very good team.
GC: You were clutch in your Ryder Cup career.
CB: We played hard and we wanted to win. That was the key to it. It was just coming along to being very, very popular. There was a lot of national and international interest. In ’89 and ’91, that was the first time they ever made money in a Ryder Cup.
GC: The Europeans had finally became competitive. They had Seve and Faldo and Woosnam and Langer and it became competitive.
CB: Yeah, what was fascinating about it … in ’89, Raymond remembered Hogan’s comment in ’67: “Ladies and gentlemen, here are the greatest players in the world.” Raymond used that after Seve, Woosnam, Faldo, Montgomerie, and Langer were introduced. Raymond said, “I’d like to introduce the 12 best players in the world.” It really upset the European team and Faldo yelled out, “I guess that means Seve is the 13th best player in the world!”
We loved it! Raymond was one tough nut. He was a great coach, ‘cause he wasn’t afraid of anybody. We loved that.
GC: He was also a player.
CB: He played in all the Ryder Cups I played in. He was instrumental in most of them, too, because of his strength of character. It didn’t matter how young his opponents were. He was a fun guy to have on the team. His wife, Maria, did a great job. She ran things beautifully.
GC: What was it like playing for Tom Watson in the ’93 Ryder Cup?
CB: Watson was a good coach. I don’t know that he listened to too much advice from anybody other than maybe Lanny Wadkins. That was his style of coaching. I think he felt that the best players were the ones that won it for you. It was just a different style of coaching and everybody respected Tom. I loved Tom; I thought he was a great competitor. He never complained and never criticized others. He put it all out there.
GC: What’s your feeling about what happened in the 2014 Ryder Cup that Watson captained? Do you think today’s players can’t accept a “hard-nosed” captain?
CB: I think the teams today want to build consensus. They want to build a certain type of relationship with their coach in a way that allows them to have input. So it could be generational; our generation is more used to the coach grabbing you by the collar and saying, “Hey, get in there and play!”
The players in our day would never say, “Gosh, I’m tired, I’m gonna sit out.” Especially when you’re winning every match.
CB: I think that’s why they brought in Watson because they knew that all that kind of foolishness wasn’t going to happen, you know?
CB: Fascinating. It’s unfortunate that guys started getting upset about it but that’s life in the 21st century, isn’t it?
GC: Yes, it is! I’ll say this about the Ryder Cup: the Europeans do seem to have this uncanny knack to chip in from all sorts of crazy places or make 50 foot putts. It’s amazing.
CB: It is. In our day, the English didn’t like the Irish, the Irish didn’t like the English, the Spaniards didn’t like the Germans … there were a lot of personal conflicts between the players.
GC: That’s interesting.
CB: Early on, the only jelling point was to beat the Americans. As it went on, most of the Europeans’ contracts were set by how they performed in the Ryder Cup. One of the guys that was on the ’91 team … if he won all of his matches, he got a new Ferrari.
GC: I didn’t know that.
CB: Yeah, most of the contracts were based on how they performed in the Ryder Cup. They got a lot of additional money whereas we didn’t get paid a thing. It did actually cost us money.
GC: No kidding!
CB: I remember I had to give up two Mondays – before and after the Ryder Cup – $30,000 each day. What hurt the American players as time went on … Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Davis Love, these guys were playing every year in some big event: President’s Cup in Australia, next year they’re in the Ryder Cup. After ten years of playing, they get burned out with it. It’s easy to lose a little bit of your passion for it because those are big, long weeks and they take a lot of energy out of you. There’s a lot of social things that go with promoting the Ryder Cup. For me, I loved it and I thought it was one of the great things in my life. But I guess as time went on, it wasn’t quite as it once was when it was the only event we played in.
GC: Once it started becoming popular on television – especially with that “War at the Shore” at Kiawah – the money started coming in and it wasn’t a friendly competition any more. It was big business.
CB: No question. I think that’s when O’Meara and Tiger Woods came together and said, “You know, we need to get paid for this.” For which they took a lot of heat. And most people didn’t understand that. They probably should have been paid. I think they did a really good job making it a compromise where they got paid for charity dollars.
GC: Chip, that whole controversy with you laying up on 15 in the 1993 Masters … I never understood that. You knew your game, you knew what the shot was, and how far you could hit the ball off that hanging lie, the wind direction … people really ripped you for laying up.
CB: Yeah, for Venturi to call me a coward, I thought that was a low blow … that I was only playing for second place money so I could get my Ryder Cup points. I thought, “This guy, where is he living?” He knew good and well, in my generation, we didn’t play for the money in those tournaments.
We had to threaten to boycott the Masters just to get them to pay up. It was crazy, we didn’t play for enough money to hardly pay your bills and yet he was saying that I was playing for the Ryder Cup points. I’m thinking, “Man, I’ve already done that twice.” I wasn’t thinking anything about the Ryder Cup. I was thinking about how to win that tournament and I didn’t think it was smart to risk the whole tournament on one shot.
The flag was ten paces back. If it had been 3 feet on the front of the green, I’d have gone for the right bunker … which gave me ten extra yards and I could skirt the wind and the mound in front of my ball. At that time, there were a couple of mounds there. There were a lot of factors. That’s what makes golf interesting; everybody has to make their own decisions.
GC: What did you just say about boycotting the Masters? You lost me on that.
CB: The Tour actually threatened Augusta that we were going to boycott the Masters unless they kept pace with the way they paid the players.
GC: I never heard that! Is this common knowledge?
CB: It happened, it was probably in the mid-80s. Deane Beman orchestrated all that and made sure they kept pace. That was the year they were going to pay 18% of the purse to the winner.
GC: I didn’t know that.
CB: The Masters, they could do anything they wanted. In the ‘80s, they weren’t paying enough. It should have been better. They were starting to make a lot of money as well.
GC: I did not know that. I’m surprised Augusta National didn’t turn around and ban everyone for life!
CB: They’re smarter than that. They’re a great group, though. It’s kind of fascinating, don’t you think?
GC: It really is. Speaking of the Masters and Tom Watson, a few years ago I interviewed Mr. Watson in his office in Kansas City. I said, “I know you were good friends with Sam Snead and Byron Nelson. And Mr. Nelson was a very polite and proper man who was deeply religious. And from what I read, Sam Snead used to tell filthy jokes. So I’m curious, at one of the past champions Masters dinners when Snead would tell a dirty joke, how did Mr. Nelson react?” Watson stared at me with those steely blue eyes, pointed his finger at me and said, “That’s none of your business.” I froze, I wasn’t prepared for that kind of response from him.
CB: That’s kind of strange, isn’t it? But that’s what you get with Tom: it’s white and black.
GC: For a few years there you lost your swing and didn’t make a cut … I don’t want to re-hash that. I know that most knowledgeable golf fans really admired you, Chip, for the way you handled yourself during that difficult period.
CB: That’s nice. It was a tough time, no doubt. I was actually burned out. It was such hard work for me and I’d gone through a divorce. My ex-wife made it really hard on me and I was just completely burned out. It took every part of me to perform and compete.
Sometimes, I had more conflicts when I was at the top versus when I was struggling. I think it was nice to be out of the limelight and spend time with my family, watch my children grow up. That period of time when I played poorly – probably ten years in there – I wouldn’t want to do it any other way because I really became close with my children.
GC: I know you got into the insurance industry. Are you still involved with that?
CB: I’m not. I think if I had gotten into the P&C side of the business, I would probably still be in it.
GC: P&C? What’s that?
CB: Property and Casualty business. Especially Life and Health.
GC: So you were selling insurance for a while. Were you looking down the road at the Champions Tour?
CB: Yes. I was playing seven events on the Nationwide Tour at that time. I met Dr. Jim Suttie who really helped me. He’s done more empirical research than anybody in the history of the game and he’s changed the way they’re teaching in this country. He’s the finest teacher that’s probably ever come down the pike.
GC: He’s on my website. I interviewed him a few years ago.
CB: He’s a great, great teacher, let me tell you. He’s the most underrated teacher that’s ever been around. If Tiger Woods really has issues, he should talk to Doc … he’d simplify it for him.
GC: How do you think Doc helped you with your swing?
CB: He helped me understand how I could time my swing. That’s what it’s all about, trying to time your swing and trying to understand what makes the swing work and how your body works in relation to that swing. I remember the first lesson I had with Doc, he said, “Chip, you could play from now until eternity … with your fast hips and that long arm swing, you’ll never square the face up.” I said, “Whoa! Say that again, Doc!” I never had anybody tell me that. Nobody knew how to time my swing. He was the first guy that told me you need to have a short arm swing and a big body turn because of my fast hips. I knew I was gonna get better from that day forward and I did. He gave me a chance to play the Champions Tour which was outstanding.
GC: You had a lot of success on the Champions Tour. You didn’t win but you had a couple of years there with some nice earnings.
CB: I enjoyed the Champions Tour. But now I’m getting towards the end of all that.
GC: I’m sure you’re a big hit with the fans and the sponsors because you’re such an outgoing, friendly guy. I’m not going to mention names but I’ve been to a couple of Champions events and some of the pros are really going through the motions with the fans. They sign autographs and don’t look at the person they’re signing for. On the other hand, I don’t know why 58-year old men want autographs … but that’s another story.
GC: When you’re a kid, I understand that kids want autographs. But when it reaches a point when you want autographs to sell them on eBay, I can see why some of the pros find it annoying. So what are you doing these days? If people want to learn more about you…
CB: There’s www.ChipBeck.com. I’m also helping my wife with her Grip Guides, which is a great product that she’s developed. It’s the first time in history that we know why and how the grip should be. When I first showed her the grip she said, “Wow, that’s way too complicated; we need something that changes colors like a mood ring.” She invented an adhesive strip that changes colors and you can read it like Braille. It has lines and ridges. Blind people can feel it.
GC: What else are you up to?
CB: I’m working with a lot of corporations and I’ll be at Gray Oaks in Naples, Florida, working with their membership. I’m looking forward to that.
GC: Chip, thank you for your time. I wish you all the best.
CB: Thank you, Robert. God Bless you.