LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – The suffocating pressure of Disney Sunday can make just about any bubble-boy Tour pro suffer a panic attack.
Funny thing, then, because bubble-boy Tour pro Charlie Beljan, who actually did suffer a panic attack on Friday that resulted in an overnight hospital stay, looked as calm as he had all week Sunday.
That alone was strange because Beljan was vying for his first PGA Tour victory. Because a blow-up round at the season finale meant he was headed back to Q-School. Because another day with shortness of breath and a spiked heart rate and numbness in his arms might put him back in an ambulance.
But other than feeling as though “my heart was coming out of my chest” – granted, for natural reasons, not a health-related condition – Beljan looked strong and healthy in winning the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals Classic by two strokes on Sunday.
“It still isn’t real,” he said.
Even Disney writers would have trouble concocting a story this improbable.
Yet the ending nearly took a decidedly darker turn, after the 28-year-old rookie awoke Sunday with a pounding headache and churning stomach.
“It must be a blessing,” Beljan shrugged afterward, “because all I think about is whether I’m going to play or not. I don’t think about the task at all.”
And at least the symptoms weren’t nearly as scary as what he experienced Friday, when he sat cross-legged on the grass, in the shade, and tried to slow down his heart rate. When he plopped down on the bottom of his bag and debated whether to continue. When he tried not to topple over on the tee box. When he tried not to faint while lining up putts. When he counted down the holes and the shots and just wanted to finish, to sign his card and to know what was wrong, to be safe.
Back home in Mesa, Ariz., his family watched the coverage on TV, tormented.
Said Beljan’s mother, Ann, “I just didn’t know what to do. I felt so helpless. I was screaming at the TV, like, ‘Give him a cold wrap for his neck!’”
Said Beljan’s wife of eight months, Merisa, “I was at home crying, watching him crying.”
Said Beljan’s caddie, Rick Adcox, “How he got through that day, I have no idea. At one time he was white. The next time his face was red as a beetle.”
After a stunning 64 – perhaps the round of the year, given the circumstances – Beljan signed his card and was promptly strapped onto a stretcher. He was loaded into an ambulance and spent that night in the hospital, undergoing a battery of tests and getting about an hour and a half of sleep before the third round.
At one point, he was “99.9 percent” sure he couldn’t tee it up.
Just head home.
Just get healthy.
Doctors still don’t know definitively what sent Beljan into that terrifying tailspin. For starters, he was dehydrated – doctors said he had no sodium or potassium left in his body. But the situation is troubling, especially after Beljan recently passed out on an airplane, slammed into the cockpit door and forced the pilot to make an emergency landing. Since then, he has had six or seven of those episodes, each of them more frightening than the previous one.
That’s what made this final round so intriguing. What would Sunday bring? Would the suffocating pressure of Disney Sunday exacerbate his condition? Would he survive?
Well, staked to a two-shot lead, and with his family – including 2-month-old son Graham – crashing at a nearby Holiday Inn, Beljan slept about nine hours Saturday night. The discomfort he felt early Sunday – perhaps just pre-round nerves, perhaps part of a bigger issue – subsided by the time he made his first bogey, on the opening hole.
A picky eater, Beljan typically doesn’t eat or drink anything during a tournament round. That changed this weekend, however – doctor’s orders – and Adcox practically shoved water and Gatorade and bananas and peanut-butter sandwiches down his man’s throat.
“And he complained today because he had the one with the peanuts in it,” Adcox said, smiling.
But looking as comfortable as he had all week, Beljan recovered from that opening bogey and made five birdies in a six-hole span around the turn, building a five-shot lead at one point.
Though he made a double bogey on the 310-yard 13th, he responded by curling in a 20-foot birdie putt on the very next hole. He closed with 69 and finished at 16-under 272. He played the final hole needing only a double bogey to win. He coasted to victory, just 48 hours after he thought he was going to die on the course.
“Just like any other Charlie Beljan week,” he said.