LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — Charlie Beljan had no reason to panic Sunday. His wild week at Disney ended with a comfortable lead and his first PGA Tour victory.
What a turnaround in just two days.
Beljan struggled to breathe and his blood pressure spiked during the second round, which ended with him being wheeled out of the scoring room on a stretcher. He spent the night at the hospital. It turned out to be a panic attack that was out of control.
For 36 holes, he feared the panic attack might return. By the end of play Sunday, the 28-year-old rookie had completed a dream week.
Beljan ran off four straight birdies around the turn and built a five-shot lead on the back nine. He closed with a bogey for a 3-under 69 and a two-shot win at the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals Classic.
After knocking in the last putt, he tossed his putter and walked around the 18th green on the Magnolia Course pumping his fists as it all began to sink in. Beljan was No. 139 on the PGA Tour money list coming into the final event of the year and figured he was headed back to Q-school. His win gives him a two-year exemption, a trip to Maui for the Tournament of Championship and a spot in the PGA Championship next year.
“What a joy,” he said. “This is the greatest feeling ever.”
He hoisted his 7-week-old son on the 18th green as a band played “Zippity-Do-Dah.”
Even by Disney’s standards, this was an unimaginable journey. Beljan thought he was going to die on Friday when his chest was heaving as he tried to breathe. He sat in the fairway and paramedics followed him around the back nine of Palm Course in his second round.
He got only an hour of sleep in the hospital Friday night, leaving his golf shoes on until about 4:30 a.m., then came to the course Saturday not knowing if he could finish one hole, let alone all 18. And when he woke Sunday, he had a pounding headache and an uneasy stomach.
All that is forgotten. Beljan, who finished on 16-under 272, became the fourth rookie to win on tour this year.
Robert Garrigus got within two shots of him with about an hour to go until he stopped making birdies and had to settle for a 68. He finished two shots behind, along with Matt Every, who closed with a 68.
Tim Herron was the other big winner Sunday, closing with a 69 to tie for ninth. That gave him enough money to move from No. 138 to No. 124 on the money list, giving him his full card for the 2013 season.
Kevin Chappell finished at No. 125. He wound up $1,809 ahead of Jerry Kelly, but Chappell wasn’t safe until Charlie Wi and Josh Teater each made par on the last hole. If either had made bogey, Kelly would have moved up one position — from a six-way tie for ninth to a seven-way tie for eighth — that would have allowed him to pass Chappell.
Instead, Kelly is out of the top 125 for the first time in his career.
Beljan earned $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.
Beljan showed a few signs that he might crack. He three-putted from behind the fifth green, and then was disgusted with an approach that just missed the green to the left on No. 7. After getting a drop because his left foot was on a sprinkler head, he rolled in an 18-foot birdie off the green, screamed “Go!” at a wedge that obeyed him and settled a foot away for a tap-in birdie on the eighth, and then holed a 30-foot birdie on the ninth.
He’s so long off the tee that the par-5 10th was the easiest of his four straight birdies, and when he knocked in a 30-footer on No. 12, Beljan’s lead was up to five shots.
There was only one nervous moment after that.
Instead of playing it safe off the tee at the 13th, he hit driver into the woods, went into a bunker, then across the green, and made a quick double bogey. Garrigus made a birdie ahead of him on the 14th, and suddenly, the lead was only two shots.
No need to panic.
Beljan’s 12-foot birdie putt on the 14th caught just enough of the right side of the cup to fall. Garrigus didn’t make another birdie, and Beljan’s only other big blunder was knocking a birdie attempt some 7 feet by the cup at No. 16. He made that one coming back for par, and reached the 18th tee with a three-shot lead.
Typical of the final event of the year, all the drama was on the ever-changing money list.
Herron looked to be in good shape until he hit his tee shot into the water on the 17th hole and made double bogey, and then had a 20-foot birdie putt hang on the edge of the cup on the 18th hole. He figured he needed that to get his card, and walking off the green he stepped on his bag and gave it a swift kick. He was ready to give the bag another kick when Golf Channel announcer Billy Andrade said he might be safe.
Wi and Teater, playing one group apart, hit the fairway and the green on the 18th for regulation pars to spare Chappell, who started the week at No. 123. Teater, in the final group, ran his birdie putt about 2½ feet by the hole, but knocked that in and Chappell was safe.
Chappell tweeted, “Well I am glad that is over thanks for all the support. I look forward to improving this off season and making sure this never happens again.”