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Time to start fast at Sony Open

1/11/2013 - Golf

Heading into the season-ending Children's Miracle Network Hospitals Classic at Disney World in November, Charlie Beljan missed 11 of 20 cuts on the PGA Tour.

The 28-year-old former University of New Mexico star had started his rookie year at the Sony Open by missing the cut. He would either withdraw or get the weekend off from seven of his next 11 events before a tie for third at the Greenbrier Classic in July.

At Disney, he was fighting to get inside the top 125 on the money list to retain his full playing privileges for 2013.

That pressure probably contributed to his well-publicized panic attack and overnight stay in an Orlando, Fla.-area hospital before winning his first PGA Tour title.

Beljan, who is from Mesa, Ariz., is very fortunate this week to be at the Waialae Country Club in Honolulu for the Sony Open. Not only because he survived one of the most frightening episodes of his life, but also because he accomplished something with that victory that won't happen again on the regular tour.

He saved his card in the now-defunct Fall Series, where he had two of his three top-10s on the year, including the win at Disney. Those events will now be a part of the 2013-14 season.

The shorter 2013 regular season means those players faced with Beljan's situation from November will have fewer chances to salvage their jobs.

The compressed schedule will undoubtedly place a greater premium on players to perform well at each tournament, particularly for the typical tour member who sits low on the all-exempt priority rankings list, which determines the makeup of fields from week to week.

Due to a nagging hand injury and mostly indifferent play, Beljan entered the Fall Series with only 18 tournaments for the year. It was difficult for him to get into events and build any momentum. When he did get into a field, there was awesome pressure to have a good week.

With a tie for 13th at the 2011 PGA Tour Q-school, it was already hard enough for him to get into tournaments. Q-school and Nationwide Tour grads are the last players to complete a 144-man field after it has been filled with past winners and the top 125 on the previous year's money list. Depending on how much money you've made through a six-week period, your number changes on the reshuffle list to get more starts.

That's why it's so important for the rank-and-file tour player who sits low on the priority rankings to begin his season on a high note at this week's Sony Open -- the first full-field event of the year.

There are 23 rookies at Waialae, including Russell Henley, Luke List, Luke Guthrie and Patrick Reed. This distinguished group is burdened with playing their first tour events as full-fledged members and the challenge of eyeing the tournament as a vehicle to position themselves to raise their stakes on the reshuffle list. They understand that with fewer tournaments, there is a necessity to maximize every opportunity.

Beljan was one of these bright-eyed rookies last year when he came to Hawaii. He didn't get his year off to a fast start, but he had the good fortune of a strong ending. This crop of 2013 rookies will getter fewer tries than Beljan to make it back here in 2014.

Many of the rookies might have Beljan's fantastic finish, but it has to happen sooner than November. The Sony Open is the beginning of a march to the tour's final regular event in August at the Wyndham Championship.

From the start of play on Thursday at Waialae, these rookies should feel the urgency that Beljan handled at Disney. Regardless of their status at the end of the season, they will probably look back at how they began their year in Hawaii and on the West Coast. If they play well and get into many events, they can likely book their tickets for the 2014 Sony Open.

Beljan couldn't make his reservations for this trip until after his win. Lucky him.