The Man Who Invented the Yardage Book

Deane Beman won the U.S. Amateur twice and the British Amateur once, and between 1969 and 1973 he won four times on the PGA Tour.

UNITED STATES - SEPTEMBER 13: Golf: US Amateur Open, Closeup of Deane Beman victorious with trophy at Wakonda Club, Des Moines, IA 9/13/1963 (Photo by Lee Balterman/Sports Illustrated/Getty Images) (SetNumber: X17644)

Beman and the trophy for the 1963 U.S. Amateur. Photo by Lee Balterman/Sports Illustrated/Getty Images)

He became the tour’s commissioner in 1974, and he built the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass—where the Players Championship, the fifth major, will be held next month, and which you can read about in my column in the current issue of Golf Digest—and he is largely responsible for transforming the tour into a robust modern enterprise. He was also the first player to methodically measure and record key yardages on the golf courses he played, beginning in 1954, when he was still a junior:

IMG_1372

Beman’s homemade yardage guide for the 1954 U. S. Jaycee Junior Tournament, which was held on the golf course of the University of New Mexico.

“I’d pace off the golf course during a practice round, and make notes on a scorecard,” he told me recently. “It was quite unsophisticated, but pretty effective. Doing that was a little more difficult back then, because golf courses had single-row irrigation, so there weren’t as many sprinkler heads as you have today. I used trees and bunkers and things like that. A championship course usually had bunkering in the landing areas, and I could use either the front or the back of a bunker as my mark to the front of the green. And then I’d measure the green.”

Beman's front-nine notes from the 1958 U. S. Open, at Southern Hills. The circled numbers are green depths.

Beman’s front-nine notes from the 1958 U. S. Open, at Southern Hills. The circled numbers are green depths.

“I played a lot of golf with Jack Nicklaus when we were amateurs, and he would laugh when I pulled out my card,” Beman continued. “But then he got married to the idea. The first time Jack copied what I did was at Pebble Beach, for the 1961 U. S. Amateur.” Nicklaus himself said later, “I was playing a practice round with Deane in 1961 and he said, ‘Why don’t you try it one time, just walk off the golf course?'” He did, and blew away Dudley Wysong in the final. “After that,” Beman continued, “I don’t think Jack ever played a round without having the ability to really, really know the length of any shot he was facing.”

Beman's notes from Colonial, in 1960.

Beman’s notes from Colonial, in 1960.

“Now, I will say this,” Beman went on. “I was not a popular guy with caddies, because I required them to go walk the golf course before every round, and pace off every pin position. I had my yardages to the front of the green, and I knew how deep the green was, so I would give my caddie a pad on which I had marked the dimensions. I wanted to know how deep the pin was that day, and he would pace that off. Nobody had any pin sheets in those days—but I did.”

Beman's notes for the 1959 Masters.

Beman’s notes for the 1959 Masters.

Nowadays, tour players and their caddies carry extraordinarily sophisticated yardage books, which contain not just distances but also topographical details, and even lousy golfers can determine the length of just about any shot within a few feet, if they own a laser rangefinder. But players at all levels were skeptical at first, and Beman’s idea didn’t really catch on until the 1970s. Arnold Palmer, among many others, though it was dumb. Ha!

Beman's notes for Pinehurst No. 2.

Beman’s notes for Pinehurst No. 2.

“My notes became much more sophisticated once I turned professional,” Beman said. He saved those scorecards, too — but the ones in the photos above show how it all began.

IMG_1379

How to Make a Golfer Choke

UNIVERSITY PLACE, WA - JUNE 21:  Dustin Johnson of the United States watches his missed birdie putt on the 18th green during the final round of the 115th U.S. Open Championship at Chambers Bay on June 21, 2015 in University Place, Washington.  (Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images)

(Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images)

When Dustin Johnson screwed up on the final green at Chambers Bay, avid golfers all over the world wept for him. After all, how many of us, at some point, haven’t three-putted from twelve feet to lose the U.S. Open? My friends and I were especially sympathetic, because we have just about perfected choking. In several of our regular games, we play an add-on feature on the eighteenth hole called All Balls Count—and that does it.

18rayputt

Our eighteenth (which is also our ninth, played from slightly different tees) is theoretically a pushover: a very short par 4, just 250 yards or so, slightly uphill:

P1160309

But it can be diabolical, because there are trees on both sides, and the green is a redan, and there are lob-devouring bunkers both in front and behind, and out-of-bounds is in play from the tee and the fairway and even the bunkers, and when the hole is cut in the front left corner getting close from almost anywhere can be virtually impossible.

P1160304

Note the expression of agony on Howard’s face:

18howardlob

Shots like that become even harder when guys are sitting on the picnic benches above the green, watching:

P1000804

And they become harder still when Hacker (real name) announces on the first tee that, even though we’re playing just one best ball that day, on the eighteenth hole all four scores in every foursome will have to be counted. That can be enough to make even a very good player slice his tee shot into the pine trees on the right, then pound his second shot straight down into the pine straw, then have no choice but to take an unplayable lie (still in the pine straw), then skull his fourth shot into the bunker over the green, and so on.

P1150935

Meanwhile, all three of his teammates—who are feeling even more pressure not to screw up, since they now know that their team score on the hole is virtually guaranteed to be at least four or five over par—are finding their own ways to implode.

18mikepitch

Try it.

P1160280