Commentary

Charlie Beljan nabs improbable win

Updated: November 11, 2012, 10:40 PM ET
By Bob Harig | ESPN.com

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- His health issues were serious, certainly nothing to make light of or diminish. But Charlie Beljan's anxiety attack that led to a hospital stay in the middle of a golf tournament couldn't keep him from winning his first PGA Tour event.

And his performance over the weekend at the Walt Disney World Resort certainly lends credence to the old axiom to beware the sick or injured golfer.

[+] EnlargeBeljan
AP Photo/Reinhold MatayCharlie Beljan started the Children's Miracle Network Hospitals Classic at 139th on the PGA Tour money list. He left with a two-year exemption after winning on Sunday.

From an ambulance ride and a harrowing night in a hospital to the winner's circle is not the way you'd draw it up, but it does again show that sometimes golfers have a habit of getting in their own way.

Who is a better example of that than Beljan, 28, a PGA Tour rookie who came to the final event on the PGA Tour schedule -- and what could be the last Children's Miracle Network Hospitals Classic -- fighting for his playing privileges?

And he wins.

His year had been so poor that Beljan made the cut in just eight tournaments. After his best finish at the Greenbrier Classic, where he tied for third, Beljan missed the cut in five of his next six events. He came here 139th on the money list, and things certainly did not look good when he was seeking medical attention before he even teed off on Friday.

And yet despite clear distress, needing medical attention on the course, feeling as if he was going to faint … Beljan made two eagles and six birdies en route to a 64. The fact that he finished was impressive. But to shoot 8 under, even on a relatively benign course?

"That was pretty special," said Beljan's caddie, Rick Adcox. "I've never seen nothing like that before. I've been caddying since 1971. I've never seen anything like that. I've never been involved in anything like that.

"Seeing the golf shots he hit, knowing what was going on. Is this the last swing of the day? You never knew what could be the last swing of the day."

And therein lies the lesson: Beljan was thinking of anything but golf on Friday and he shot one of his best rounds of the year.

"I think it taught me that it doesn't matter about your golf swing or your putting stroke or anything like that," Beljan said. "We're all good enough out here. As long as you believe in yourself and you keep on fighting, that's what I did on Friday that was able to put me in the position to be here.

"No longer will I be thinking about my golf swing on the first tee or in the middle of the seventh fairway. I'm just going to try and hit golf shots because that's what we do. We practice on the range for a reason and we play golf on the course for a reason."

Beljan left the hospital early Saturday morning and just a few hours later was teeing off, shooting a 71 to maintain his lead. On Sunday, he added a 69 on Disney's Magnolia course and survived a few more anxious moments.

"I woke up [Sunday] and felt horrible again," said Beljan, who bogeyed the first hole and found himself tied for the lead early on. And then after seemingly getting control of the tournament with four straight birdies from the seventh to 10th holes, he made a double-bogey at the par-4 13th to give others hope.

But Beljan birdied the 14th and a closing bogey still meant a 2-stroke victory over Matt Every and Robert Garrigus.

Ultimately, it helped Beljan secure his PGA Tour card as he needed a finish among the top 10 to jump from 139th into the top 125 on the money list -- the cutoff for full exempt status in 2013. As it turned out, he did better than that, earning a two-year exemption on the PGA Tour, a spot in the season-opening Hyundai Tournament of Champions and a handful of other perks, including entry into the PGA Championship -- which would be his first major if he is unable to qualify for the first three of 2013.

"I get to go to Hawaii to start the year," he said. "And I don't know quite what other perks come with winning, but I know every single one of them is pretty darn good."

Perhaps more than anything, he attained some peace of mind.

He came to Disney World wondering about his job status, had a major health scare, and leaves with a victory, $846,000 and his golf future secure.

The final tournament of the year has typically been more about the bottom of the money list than those winning the event, although Beljan turned out to be part of both. He won and was one of just two players to move into the top 125. Tim Herron also moved into the top 125 while Rod Pampling and Billy Mayfair fell out.

Those dynamics have been part of the Disney tournament for years, and perhaps now a reason why the tournament's future is in limbo. It has a nice little niche in the fall, serving as the final full-field event. All that changes next year as the 2013 season concludes in September and the fall events become part of the new 2013-2014 wraparound schedule.

Children's Miracle Network is also departing as a title sponsor, and a new one will be asked to help pay for a purse that will would be expected to go from $4.7 million to $6 million.

All of those factors put the tournament's future in doubt, an unfortunate circumstance when you consider its history. Jack Nicklaus won the first three tournaments at Disney starting in 1971 -- just months after the Magic Kingdom opened.

Among other winners here were Larry Nelson, Raymond Floyd, Payne Stewart, Davis Love III and Tiger Woods. Love remarked earlier this week that a couple of generations of tour kids grew up coming to this tournament and partaking in all of the various Disney activities.

Whether the tournament endures will be determined at a later date, and tournament officials have declined to speculate about their wishes.

But if this was the last one, it served as quite the dream come true for a Beljan, who just a few days ago didn't figure to be here.

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com

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