Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Golf [Print without images]

Saturday, November 10, 2012
Charlie Beljan battles on at Disney

By Bob Harig
ESPN.com

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- This has been a year filled with collapses in golf, some high-profile bouts of difficulty that will be remembered more for the losers than the winners.

The word "collapse," of course, is figurative, in that the players in question -- Adam Scott and Jim Furyk come to mind -- could not finish off their respective tournaments and stumbled in gasp-inducing ways.

That is a much different scenario than what Charlie Beljan faced here at the Children's Miracle Network Hospitals Classic.

Charlie Beljan
Can Charlie Beljan pull off what would seemingly be impossible on Sunday at Disney? A victory in the PGA Tour's season finale would give him a 2-year exemption.

When he arrived at the Walt Disney World Resort on Saturday morning after having spent the night in the hospital, all eyes were upon him, wondering if he would collapse for real, certainly not in a golf sense.

The golf didn't matter, but the fact that he played quite well and kept his lead only adds to the story.

That's because it was a scary scene Friday on Disney's Palm course, when Beljan, a PGA Tour rookie playing perhaps the round of the year, feared he was having a heart attack, needed medical attention throughout the round and then was taken in a stretcher to an ambulance and driven to a hospital.

Only there, late Friday night, did Beljan learn that he was leading the golf tournament. After having had every test administered, he ended up with little sleep.

That he was discharged a few hours later feeling well enough to try to play despite a doctor's advising him not to, and actually performed nicely to retain the lead through three rounds of the final PGA Tour event of the year ... well, it is remarkable.

On top of everything, Beljan needs to a good week to retain his PGA Tour card for 2013.

"I don't know how I am where I am right now," Beljan said Saturday's round. "After yesterday, getting checked out, not even knowing if I was going to play but being in the position I was in and looking for a good week or at least an opportunity to finish in that top 125, I knew I had to make something happen.

"Yesterday, I battled for about six, seven hours. The worst feelings, what I thought were life-threatening feelings, I thought I literally had a chance to die.

"Today, I showed up and I honestly didn't know if I was going to play one hole, any holes, or I was going to get through the day. I felt better as the day went on and I just hung tough, hung in there. I knew what the rewards were at the end of this week if I could pull something off, and that's kind of what kept me going."

Beljan, 28, is fighting for his job on top of all the health-related stress. He came into the last tournament of the year ranked 139th on the money list and needing roughly a top-10 finish to move into the top 125 and remain exempt for next year.

Anything outside of the top 125 but inside the top 150 would give him conditional status, but not as much schedule flexibility. Beljan made it onto the PGA Tour this year by earning one of 25 spots through the PGA Tour's qualifying tournament.

Beljan was able to share a few laughs after his round Saturday and was dearly looking to get some sleep.

But his situation remains scary and troubling. Although doctors cleared him Saturday and could find nothing wrong, he traces his issues to a flight following the Reno-Tahoe Open in August. On his way home to Phoenix, Beljan became ill, was trying to make his way to a restroom and passed out. Medical personnel were summoned and the flight was diverted, making an emergency landing.

Beljan said that on at least five occasions since, he's had similar episodes. His chest tightens; he has difficulty breathing; there is some numbness in his arms. Typically, he said, he is at home and is able to calm himself down and deal with it.

"This has been a big year for me," he said. "I got my tour card. I had hand surgery. I went to Hawaii to get to play golf for two days before my first-ever PGA Tour event. I found out on Thursday morning [of that first tournament] that I'm going to have a baby. I got married in March.

"Then I'm having a bad year. I play well at Greenbrier [tie for third]. I play well a couple of weeks ago, have my baby [the last week of September] ..."

When the issues occurred again on the golf course Friday, Beljan was truly scared. The 17th tee was the worst, as Beljan said he thought he was going to pass out "and go down right there."

"He's got guts, he's got heart," said Rick Adcox, Beljan's caddie. "The guy he played with yesterday [a pro-am format is used for the first two rounds], he was a quarterback who played for Tampa [Parnell Dickinson]. He came up to me on 16 and said, 'I want that guy on my football team. He's got guts.' I thought that was pretty cool."

It wasn't until 4:30 on Saturday morning that Beljan finally took off his golf shoes, and at that point, he figured there was no way he'd be playing.

After being discharged at 8 a.m. Saturday, Beljan made it back to his hotel room for a quick nap and something to eat. He arrived at the golf course about an hour prior to his 10:55 a.m. ET tee time, talked with reporters, hit a few balls and was off.

"I was scared, I was nervous and kind of embarrassed about the whole show that happened yesterday," Beljan said. "I didn't know how I was going to take today, if those feelings were going to come back. There were a lot of unknowns today, so coming here this morning was tough."

A long hitter, Beljan knocked a 175-yard pitching wedge onto the first green, then 3-putted for a bogey. He made another bogey at the third hole but settled down when he knocked it close for a birdie at the fourth. He had three more birdies and a bogey and settled for a 1-under-par 71, which was pretty impressive under the circumstances.

"It was tremendous courage to go through that," said Harris English, one of Beljan's playing partners, who shot 73. "I know what it is to grind it out, and he's got a lot more than this tournament to worry about. He held it together. Obviously, he's got a lot going on and this is not an easy golf course."

Beljan said his wife, 7-week-old son and mother-in-law would be joining him on Saturday night -- although not in the same room so he could get some rest. He talked about how he'd love to reward them with a victory and have them celebrate with him on the final green.

That is the stuff of dreams, of course, and there are still 18 more holes to go.

"This is great," he said. "It's been a long, exciting, hectic, crazy, stressful year, but hopefully we're going to end it with a bang."