LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – By way of apology to Charlie Beljan he was hardly the only player wrestling with a potential bout of panic this week at Walt Disney World, just the only one hospitalized for it.
But for all the drama the big kid from Arizona injected into the PGA Tour’s season finale on Friday when he was rushed to a local hospital with chest pains, it was the more subtle give and take further down the money list on the year’s final Sunday that made many a Tour type appear mentally manhandled on a windswept fall afternoon.
Beljan it seemed had his fill of drama on Friday, when he spent the better part of the night being poked and prodded by medical personal following a second-round 64 amid symptoms of a panic attack, and swept out to a commanding five-stroke lead midway through the final turn thanks to a four-birdie stretch that began at the seventh hole. From there he never missed a beat.
Sorry, too soon?
“I’ve got to go get some help,” Beljan said on Saturday after explaining that he’d suffered at least a half-dozen similar bouts with panic before Friday.
Seems the cure for what ailed the rookie was a closing 69 at the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals Classic for a two-stroke victory that two days earlier didn’t seem likely.
“I was 99.9 percent sure I was not going to show up (for Saturday’s third round),” he said following a 71 on Day 3 that staked him to a two-stroke lead.
If this is the Tour’s last stop at Disney – the Children’s Miracle Network ends its sponsorship this year and the 41-year circuit staple was not on a “tentative” 2013-14 schedule – Beljan made it a memorable sendoff.
He overpowered the Magnolia Course on the weekend despite his lingering health concerns, became the year’s fourth rookie champion and secured his status for next year after starting the week 139th in earnings.
Considering the circumstances Beljan’s victory qualifies as one of the season’s most emotional, if not bizarre, triumphs, a surreal ending even his caddie, Rick “Handlebar” Adcox, seemed to sense on Saturday when he declined to wear the proper-colored bib (red).
“I wore (a yellow bib) on Friday and it was such a special day and the way he finished an unbelievable round,” Adcox said. “They could put me 6 feet under in this bib.”
Many in the year’s final official field only felt like they’d been sent 6 feet under.
The facts are these: Beljan (win) and Tim Herron (T-9) played their way into the top 125 on the money list to secure full status in 2013, while Billy Mayfair (missed cut) and Rod Pampling (missed cut) played their way out. But those generalities gloss over a hectic day that made Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride seem lethargic by comparison.
At 1:20 p.m. (ET) Jeff Maggert was projected at No. 125. Seventeen minutes later Kevin Chappell found himself perched on the magic number. And so it went.
Chappell was clinging to the last spot when he rinsed his tee shot at the 17th hole and scrambled for a “great bogey.” At the last, he calmly rolled in a 4-footer for par he thought would lock up his Tour card.
“Not knowing is the hardest part,” said Chappell, who closed with 73 to tie for 34th. “When you’re trying to win a golf tournament you know what you need to do, but I didn’t know if I needed to be aggressive or stay patient.”
Turns out all he needed to do was wait.
Charlie Wi, playing in the penultimate group, bogeyed the 17th hole and dropped into a tie for fifth. If he had bogeyed the last, which he didn’t, he would have slipped back and created a seven-way tie for eighth. That scenario would have lifted Jerry Kelly, who started the week 137th in earnings, past Chappell and into 125th place.
Late Sunday, however, Kelly didn’t have the look of a man just run over by the season-ending money crush.
“I’m about the happiest 126th guy you’d ever see,” smiled Kelly, pointing out that his tie for ninth secured his status inside the top 25 in career earnings which brings with it a one-year exemption. “If I didn’t get it done today . . . I had to play today and I ended up with the best round (66) of the year by a long shot.”
It wasn’t Herron’s best round, but it was good enough despite a double-bogey 6 at the 17th hole, dubbed the “Widow Maker” by one caddie on Sunday. The veteran’s tie for ninth lifted him to 124th on the money list, marking just the second time in five years he’s finished inside the top 125.
“(Golf Channel on-course reporter) Billy Andrade told me, ‘You're in. You don’t need to break any more stuff,’” said Herron, who was taking his frustration out on his golf bag after the miscue at the 17th hole.
Russell Knox, 156th to start the week, made a run at the top 125, playing his first 14 holes in 7 under, but was also undone by a double bogey at the 17th hole and jumped to 143rd in earnings which was good enough to secure partial status on Tour next year and an exemption into the final stage of Q-School later this month.
“Going into today the top 150 was my goal. I never thought it would be a possibility (to crack the top 125),” said Knox, who earned the lion’s share ($346,000) of his $512,584 this season in the Fall Series.
Late Friday night with his “size 15s” hanging over a hospital bed, Beljan didn’t think it would be possible to finish the tournament. The next 48 hours featured a remarkable transition, or maybe it was a recovery, from intensive care to the winner’s circle.
Stress, what stress?