Golfer Charlie Beljan's wild week ends with first PGA Tour win
After leaving round two in an ambulance, rookie bags first PGA Tour title, scores next year's card
Doug Ferguson in Lake Buena Vista, Florida
Charlie Beljan felt as if his heart was about to burst out of his chest at Disney, and he could not have felt better.
This was not another panic attack gone wild, like the one that sent him to the hospital in an ambulance after the second round and made him feel like he was going to die. This was the prospect of winning on the PGA Tour for the first time.
The roller coasters at the Magic Kingdom are nothing like what Beljan went through in the final PGA Tour event of the year.
Two days after he was wheeled out of the scoring room on a stretcher, the 28-year-old rookie was celebrating on the 18th green as the band played Zippity-Do-Dah. He arrived at the Children's Miracle Network Hospitals Classic with his job in jeopardy, and left with a two-year exemption that will send him to Maui at the start of the year, the PGA Championship at Oak Hill and lots of other tournaments where winners belong.
"Every day I drove underneath that Disney sign coming in here that said, 'Where dreams come true', and that's just what happened this week," Beljan said after closing with a 3-under 69 for a two-shot win. "And I'm so grateful and so honoured."
By the sound of it, he was lucky to be playing.
Beljan could hardly breathe and his blood pressure soared during his second round, when paramedics followed him around the back nine. After sleeping for only an hour or so in the hospital following a variety of tests, he played on Saturday fearful of having another panic attack. When he awoke on Sunday morning, his head was throbbing and his stomach felt queasy.
Once he got on the golf course, the rest was easy.
Beljan ran off five birdies in a six-hole stretch around the turn, twice knocking in putts from around 30 feet, and built a five-shot lead. A double bogey made it close, but only until he made birdie on the next hole. He tapped in one last putt, tossed his putter to the side of the green, pumped his fist in celebration and hoisted his seven-week-old son.
Robert Garrigus and Matt Every each closed with a 68 and tied for second.
"It was incredible," Beljan said. "I was happy that I was a PGA Tour champion. I was happy that my wife and my baby were here. It still isn't real."
Just three weeks ago, he feared he would have to go to the second stage of Q-school, no guarantee that he would have a tour card for next year. Suddenly, he can make plans for the Tournament of Champions at Kapalua, for events hosted by Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods. "I don't know what other perks come with winning, but I know every single one of them is pretty darn good," he said.
Beljan finished on 16-under 272 and became the fourth rookie to win on tour this year.
He earned US$846,000 for the victory, capping a long, hectic season in which he learned he was going to be a father, got married in March and first began suffering panic attacks after he passed out on a flight home from the Reno-Tahoe Open in early August.