Beljan paces himself to two-shot lead at Disney

By Doug FergusonNovember 10, 2012, 9:41 pm

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Charlie Beljan was in a hospital bed in the middle of the night, still wearing his golf shoes, thinking his season was over.

He was about six hours from his tee time Saturday at Disney. Just 12 hours earlier, he was having a panic attack on the golf course so severe that he could barely breathe, his blood pressure spiked and his arms felt numb. After signing his card, he was strapped into a stretcher, loaded into an ambulance and taken to a hospital.

''I thought I literally had a chance to die,'' Beljan said.

In a turnaround that even by Disney's standards seems like a fairy tale, the 28-year-old rookie now has a chance to win his first PGA Tour title.

Beljan was released from the hospital, overcame two early bogeys and was solid over the final hour in the Children's Miracle Network Hospitals Classic for a 1-under 71 that gave him a two-shot lead going into the final round.

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

The rewards were ample.

This is the final PGA Tour event of the year, and Beljan is No. 139 on the money list. Only the top 125 get full cards for next year. Doctors told him he was in good enough health to be released, but perhaps not to play golf. He ignored their recommendations.

''The position I'm in, it's kind of hard not to show up,'' he said before teeing off.

Beljan had a pair of three-putt bogeys that cost him his three-shot lead after three holes, and felt some tightening in his chest as he approached the turn, the same symptoms that caused much fear Friday. But he steadied himself, began the back nine with back-to-back birdies, and kept in front.

He was at 13-under 203, two shots ahead of Brian Gay (67), Josh Teater (67) and Charlie Wi, who was tied for the lead until closing with two bogeys for a 70.

''It's nice to be able to walk around and smile,'' Beljan said. ''Yesterday, I was hanging on for my life.''

When last seen at Disney, Beljan was gasping to draw a big breath and sitting in the fairway to wait his turn to hit. Paramedics followed him around the back nine after taking his blood pressure on the 10th tee. After signing for a 64, Beljan emerged from the scoring room strapped into a stretcher and was loaded into an ambulance.

For most of the night, he felt 99 percent sure he wouldn't be playing. But with the comfort of knowing that he was physically fine, he went back to his hotel for a shower, breakfast and headed to the golf course. Despite being nervous that another episode could strike again, he was steady for so much of the day.

Now comes the hard work.

Beljan's wife, 7-week-old son and mother-in-law were flying in from Phoenix for the final round. He has long dreamed of how cool it would be to have his family come onto the green to celebrate his first PGA Tour win.

But there's a long way to go.

Beljan's three-shot lead was gone before he stepped onto the fourth tee in the third round. He will start Sunday with 11 players separated by three shots. That includes Sea Island winner Tommy Gainey and Camilo Villegas, winless in four years, along with Robert Garrigus, who won at Disney two years ago. The group at 205 included Vaughn Taylor, who like Beljan is making a last-ditch effort to keep his card.

Beljan was simply thrilled to be playing.

''I think the big advantage for me is I'm not thinking about the golf or the putts or the chips or the shots or the swings,'' said Beljan, who didn't even realize he was in the lead until about 10:30 p.m. Friday at the hospital. ''I'm just thinking about my health, one shot at a time, one hole at a time. And shoot, the last 36 holes it's worked out pretty well.''

Beljan showed off his power on the opening hole when he was behind a tree 183 yards from the hole. He hit a pitching wedge straight up and over the tree, with enough on it to reach the green. He three-putted from 50 feet, however, and then dropped another shot on the par-3 third with a three-putt from about 25 feet on the fringe.

His only other bogey came from a bunker on the 12th.

Several players made a run at him - Wi, Gainey among them - and Charles Howell III was right in the mix. Howell was one shot out of the lead until driving into the water on the 17th to make triple bogey, and then making bogey on the last hole to finish five shots behind.

Beljan said a variety of tests showed nothing was wrong with him.

''Physically, everything is wonderful,'' he said. ''It's that little space between those ears that I've got to work on.''

This all started about three months ago when he fainted on a flight home from the Reno-Tahoe Open as he was going to the bathroom. Since then, Beljan said he has had a half-dozen panic attacks, usually in controlled environments when he can settle himself down. This one came on a golf course, and it spiraled out of control on Friday.

When he showed up at the course, he felt nervous and a little embarrassed about Friday's afternoon's episodes. But he doesn't mind the travails if it means a chance to win a tournament, or even keep his job for next year. Even if he doesn't win, Beljan would need to finish around 10th to move into the top 125.

Besides, it would be a fitting way for a wild year to end.

After getting his card at Q-school last year, he had hand surgery before starting the season. He found out at the Sony Open that he was going to be a father. He was married in March. He played poorly all year except for one week at the Greenbrier. His baby was born at the end of the FedEx Cup season. He fainted on the plane. He at least secured a spot inside the top 150, only to realize that won't mean as much next year because of a shorter season.

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

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Lexi looks to shine as LPGA season begins next week

By Randall MellJanuary 17, 2018, 6:06 pm

Lexi Thompson may be No. 4 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings, but in so many ways she became the new face of the women’s game last year.

That makes her the headliner in a fairly star-studded season opener at the Pure Silk Bahamas Classic next week.

Three of the top four players in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings are scheduled to tee it up on Paradise Island, including world No. 1 Shanshan Feng and co-Rolex Player of the Year So Yeon Ryu.

From the heartache at year’s start with the controversial loss at the ANA Inspiration, through the angst in the middle of the year with her mother’s cancer diagnosis, to the stunning disappointment at year’s end, Thompson emerged as the story of the year because of all she achieved in spite of those ordeals.

Next week’s event will mark the first time Thompson tees it up in an LPGA tournament since her season ended in stunning fashion last November with a missed 2-foot putt that cost her a chance to win the CME Group Tour Championship and the Rolex Player of the Year Award, and become the world No. 1.

She still walked away with the CME Globe’s $1 million jackpot and the Vare Trophy for the season’s low scoring average.

She also walked away sounding determined to show she will bounce back from that last disappointment the same way she bounced back from her gut-wrenching loss at the year’s first major, the ANA, where a four-shot Sunday penalty cost her a chance to win her second major.

“Just going through what I have this whole year, and seeing how strong I am, and how I got through it all and still won two tournaments, got six seconds ... it didn’t stop me,” Thompson said leaving the CME Group Tour Championship. “This won’t either.”

Thompson was named the Golf Writers Association of America’s Player of the Year in a vote of GWAA membership. Ryu and Sung Hyun Park won the tour’s points-based Rolex Player of the Year Award.

With those two victories and six second-place finishes, three of those coming after playoff losses, Thompson was close to fashioning a spectacular year in 2017, to dominating the tour.

The new season opens with Thompson the center of attention again. Consistently one of the tour’s best ball strikers and longest hitters, she enjoyed her best year on tour last season by making dramatic improvements in her wedge play, short game and, most notably, her putting.

She doesn’t have a swing coach. She fashioned a better all-around game on her own, or under the watchful eye of her father, Scott. All the work she put in showed up in her winning the Vare Trophy.

The Pure Silk Bahamas Classic will also feature defending champion Brittany Lincicome, as well as Ariya Jutanugarn, Stacy Lewis, Michelle Wie, Brooke Henderson, I.K. Kim, Danielle Kang and Charley Hull.

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One & Done: 2018 CareerBuilder Challenge

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 5:55 pm

Beginning in 2018, Golf Channel is offering a "One & Done" fantasy game alternative. Choose a golfer and add the salary they earn at the event to your season-long total - but know that once chosen, a player cannot be used again for the rest of the year.

Log on to www.playfantasygolf.com to start your own league and make picks for this week's event.

Here are some players to consider for One & Done picks this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, where Hudson Swafford returns as the defending champion:

Zach Johnson. The two-time major champ has missed the cut here three years in a row. So why include him in One & Done consideration? Because the three years before that (2012-14) included three top-25s highlighted by a third-place finish, and his T-14 at the Sony Open last week was his fifth straight top-25 dating back to September.

Bud Cauley. Cauley has yet to win on Tour, but that could very well change this year - even this week. Cauley ended up only two shots behind Swafford last year and tied for 14th the year prior, as four of his five career appearances have netted at least a top-40 finish. He opened the new season with a T-7 in Napa and closed out the fall with a T-8 at Sea Island.

Adam Hadwin. Swafford left last year with the trophy, but it looked for much of the weekend like it would be Hadwin's tournament as he finished second despite shooting a 59 in the third round. Hadwin was also T-6 at this event in 2016 and now with a win under his belt last March he returns with some unfinished business.

Charles Howell III. If you didn't use him last week at the Sony Open, this could be another good spot for the veteran who has four top-15 finishes over the last seven years at this event, highlighted by a playoff loss in 2013. His T-32 finish last week in Honolulu, while not spectacular, did include four sub-70 scores.

David Lingmerth. Lingmerth was in that 2013 playoff with Howell (eventually won by Brian Gay), and he also lost here in overtimei to Jason Dufner in 2016. The Swede also cracked the top 25 here in 2015 and is making his first start since his wife, Megan, gave birth to the couple's first child in December. Beware the sleep-deprived golfer.

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DJ: Kapalua win means nothing for Abu Dhabi

By Associated PressJanuary 17, 2018, 2:55 pm

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – Dustin Johnson's recent victory in Hawaii doesn't mean much when it comes to this week's tournament.

The top-ranked American will play at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship for the second straight year. But this time he is coming off a victory at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, which he won by eight shots.

''That was two weeks ago. So it really doesn't matter what I did there,'' said Johnson, who finished runner-up to Tommy Fleetwood in Abu Dhabi last year. ''This is a completely new week and everybody starts at even par and so I've got to start over again.''

In 2017, the long-hitting Johnson put himself in contention despite only making one eagle and no birdies on the four par-5s over the first three rounds.

''The par 5s here, they are not real easy because they are fairly long, but dependent on the wind, I can reach them if I hit good tee balls,'' the 2016 U.S. Open champion said. ''Obviously, I'd like to play them a little better this year.''

The tournament will see the return of Paul Casey as a full member of the European Tour after being away for three years.

''It's really cool to be back. What do they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder? Quite cheesy, but no, really, really cool,'' said the 40-year-old Englishman, who is now ranked 14th in the world. ''When I was back at the Open Championship at Birkdale, just the reception there, playing in front of a home crowd, I knew this is something I just miss.''

The Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship starts Thursday and also features former No. 1 Rory McIlroy, who is making a comeback after more than three months off.

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Kuchar joins European Tour as affiliate member

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 2:52 pm

Months after he nearly captured the claret jug, Matt Kuchar has made plans to play a bit more golf in Europe in 2018.

Kuchar is in the field this week at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told reporters in advance of the opening round that he has opted to join the European Tour as an affiliate member:

As an affiliate member, Kuchar will not have a required minimum number of starts to make. It's the same membership status claimed last year by Kevin Na and Jon Rahm, the latter of whom then became a full member and won two European Tour events in 2017.

Kuchar made six European Tour starts last year, including his runner-up performance at The Open. He finished T-4 at the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open in his lone European Tour start that wasn't co-sanctioned by the PGA Tour.