Laura Livsey / PGA Tour Champions
Long before a video of Cody Gribble went viral from the 2017 Arnold Palmer Invitational, when Gribble tapped an alligator on the tail sending the reptile darting into the water, Andy Bean had already done that 42 years earlier.
During the 1975 PGA TOUR Qualifying Tournament in South Florida, Bean and playing partner Sandy Galbraith were walking down the fairway when Bean, a Georgia native who played collegiate golf at the University of Florida, spotted an alligator in the distance. Bean, knowing his California pal had likely never seen a gator before, walked to the reptile, grabbed it by the tail and sent the gator into the nearby lake. Galbraith was impressed, and he eventually shared that story with a few people. Before long, The Legend of Alligator Wrestler Andy Bean was born. That led to reporters writing about the 6-foot-4, 220-pound Bean and his off-the-course “hobby.”
Bean eventually set the record straight with the media during the 1977 Doral Open, speaking in his trademark baritone Southern accent. “I walked over to the gator, who was more scared of me than I was of him. I grabbed his tail, and he jumped back into the pond. That’s all there was to it, but the story got out that I’d been wrestling this gator and threw him into the pond.”
Bean, an 11-time PGA TOUR winner, died October 14 of complications from double-lung-replacement surgery in early September. He was 70.
Thomas Andrew Bean was born March 13, 1953, in Lafayette, Georgia, near the Georgia-Tennessee border, a mere 35 miles from Chattanooga. The Bean family moved to Jekyll Island, Georgia, when he was a teenager before settling in Lakeland, Florida, where he graduated from Lakeland High School. Bean competed in high school golf against Fred Ridley, a standout at nearby Winter Haven High.
It should be no surprise Bean was an almost immediate star once he turned pro and made it to the PGA TOUR, as he was a dominant force in college golf. Bean didn’t travel far to attend school, heading to the University of Florida where he was a key ingredient on a powerhouse Gator team that also included future PGA TOUR players Gary Koch, Phil Hancock and Woody Blackburn, as well as Ridley, the current Augusta National Golf Club chairman. Florida went on to win the 1973 Southeastern Conference Championship and then punctuated that title with an NCAA Championship victory. Individually, Bean won five tournaments in college on his way to three consecutive All-American honors, starting in 1973. He graduated in 1975 and qualified for the TOUR while still a student at Florida.
Bean’s first PGA TOUR season came in 1976, where he made 20 starts and picked up a tie for fourth at the Magnolia Classic, a tournament played opposite the Masters. A year later, Bean was on his way. He made his first seven cuts to begin the 1977 season. His first missed cut of the season came at Orlando’s Florida Citrus Open, but he atoned for that by winning his first TOUR title a week later at the tournament where he put to rest the alligator myth. At the Doral Open, Bean shot a pair of 67s to begin the tournament at Miami’s venerable Doral Resort and Spa. He won in wire-to-wire fashion, taking a three-shot lead over Chi Chi Rodriguez and Leonard Thompson into the final round and ultimately defeating David Graham by a shot, winning on his birthday.
Bean finished his sophomore campaign 12th on the money list. That began a consistent run where Bean never finished lower than 35th on the earnings’ chart for 10 consecutive seasons. In 1978, he won three times and placed third on the money list, behind only Tom Watson and Gil Morgan. That year, Bean won the Kemper Open at Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte, North Carolina, and came back the next week to win again, at the Danny Thomas Memphis Classic (in a playoff over Lee Trevino). He captured the Western Open outside Chicago—also in a playoff, over Bill Rogers—to finish his three-wins-in-six-weeks stretch.
“I used to get really excited, and I’ve calmed down a bit,” Bean told the assembled media after his Western Open win, speaking of those times he was in contention, even going back to his college days. “Not a whole lot of things bother me. I’m learning patience more and more each year.
“I’m two for two (in playoffs), he added, joking, “I’ve got the best average on the TOUR.”
Bean eventually played in 588 PGA TOUR tournaments, amassing those 11 tournament titles. His last two wins came in 1986, the victories coming at the Doral-Eastern Open (his third in that event) and the Byron Nelson Golf Classic that led to another third-place money-list finish. In his career, he also had 15 runner-up performances—three coming in major championships, at The Open Championship (1983) and at the PGA Championship (1980 and 1989).
“I would have still liked to have won a major, on either tour,” he told the Lakeland Ledger, in 2015.
After turning 50 in 2003, Bean embarked on a PGA TOUR Champions career that spanned 12 seasons and resulted in three titles. Bean won the 2006 Greater Hickory Classic at Rock Barn and captured 2008 titles at the Regions Charity Classic and the Charles Schwab Cup Championship. His season-ending Charles Schwab Cup Championship win was notable for his dominating, nine-stroke victory at Sonoma Golf Club in California.
“Andy was a tenacious competitor on the course but the kindest of men off of it,” said PGA TOUR Champions President Miller Brady. “He was affectionally referred to as a gentle giant, someone who always had time for fans, the media and his fellow players. As a multiple-tournament winner after turning 50, he exemplified those same traits on PGA TOUR Champions that he did during his stellar PGA TOUR career. We send our best to Andy’s family.”
Bean officially retired from golf after the 2014 season, a car accident in 2011 and ongoing injury issues with his wrists taking their toll.
Bean is survived by his wife, Debbie, and the couple’s three daughters, Ashley, Lindsay and Jordan. Funeral services are pending.