Charlie Beljan: Ticking Time Bomb

Okay, here’s the short story. Charlie Beljan arrives on the range on Friday to play the second round of the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals Classic at Disney World. He doesn’t feel so good.

So he tells his caddie to find a doctor. The caddie brings back the paramedics. Charlie complains of shortness of breath and an elevated heart rate. Paramedics also find elevated blood pressure. They say he could play, but they recommend that he not.

But see, Charlie has a problem. He’s number 139 on the Money List and this tournament is his last chance to earn enough money to get into the Top 125 and keep his card. He has to play. So he does. 

As his round unfolds, the symptoms become more pronounced. By the time he makes the turn, he calls the paramedics in again. They examine him again and, not finding anything that’s a game changer, Charlie continues.

By the time he gets to the 14th hole, he fears for his life. The golf is a blur: fairways and greens and make the putts, no more. All he can think about is his life force draining out of him. It migrates from a major problem to a matter of his impending death.

He puts one foot in front of the other, he grasps his knees when he has to, he sits in the fairway until it’s his turn to play, he tries to conserve energy that is already gone. He plods along like some sort of zombie, way behind the group knowing that as long as he is, he’ll be the last to hit.

It becomes high drama for those watching at home. We get the advantage of cameras that can give us closeups of his face. There is anguish. There is fear. There is determination. He thinks he’s going to die.

He loses track of time, where he is and where he stands. He’s just trying to finish…because he can’t afford not to.

Amidst all of this, he shoots 8-under 64 which is completely ridiculous. They wouldn’t make a movie this contrived. But Charlie has the lead in this drama and wherever a television is tuned to the Golf Channel, people are watching. It’s not just on as background noise to household conversations.

After he signs his scorecard, they pack him into an ambulance and take him to the hospital. On the way, he asks if he’s made the cut. He doesn’t find out until later that night that he has a three-stroke lead.

They run a battery of diagnostics on him: blood work, x-rays, CT scans and surely an EKG but no one ever mentioned that one. That takes until 4:30 in the morning. He doesn’t even take his golf shoes off until then. The hospital is cold.

They told him that they would have released him that night, but he wanted the safety of proximity to help you wouldn’t find at the hotel. And he wanted to know what was happening to him.

This all started flying home from the Reno/Tahoe tournament to Phoenix. He didn’t feel well, started for the forward lavatory, fainted and crashed into the cockpit door. He’s 6′ 4″ tall and 215 pounds; it was quite a crash. He wakes up to a flight attendant screaming for a doctor and another announcing on the PA that they’re diverting to LAX.

The paramedics meet the plane at the gate, remove him to the jetway and give him an EKG, which is normal, put him back on the plane and he’s home that night. He used to love window seats; now he always sits on the aisle by the aft lavatories. And once he got home, he began a battery of inconclusive medical tests: they could find nothing functionally wrong with him.

So he gets an hour of sleep until 4:30 and then they put him in a room and he gets another three hours until he is released at 8:00. He goes back to the hotel, showers, gets something to eat, goes to the course, hits a few balls and begins his round. He’s in the final group at 10:55.

Except he’s not feeling well again. Nowhere near as bad as Friday, but he can feel it welling up again. But he has a theory this time. Given great comfort by the night’s tests that could find nothing wrong, he leans now to it being some kind of a panic attack that spiraled out of control.

And so he determines that he will not let it run amok a second day. He’s just going to keep a lid on it.

The 1st hole was short enough that he hit an iron off the tee, but he was still so unsettled that he blew it way out right behind a tree. He managed to get it on the green, but his touch was so leaden that he ended up 3-putting for bogey. His lag putt was six feet short.

He missed the green at the 171-yard, par-3 3rd and could only get his chip shot to nine feet. He missed.

But he was able to keep a lid on his anxiety…and begin to really play…like he did Friday. But this time with nowhere near the anxiety although there were burbles. He birdied four of the next eight holes. He bogeyed the 13th and then ran off a string of pars to the end.

That he could shoot 1-under par on three hours of restless sleep and still maintain a 2-shot lead is story he’ll be telling for the rest of his life. And many of us will too.

And hopefully he’ll be able to get to the bottom of whatever this is. On the psychological side, he’s already seen eminent sports psychologist, Dr. Bob Rotella:

I actually spent three or four days at Dr. Bob Rotella’s house back in — well, two weeks before the Greenbrier, so whenever that was, June, July, somewhere in there [after which, he had his best finish of the year, T3].

I was going to talk to him this morning but I was in the hospital and my phone went dead last night at about midnight or 2:00 a.m., so I was completely cut off from everybody. Didn’t get a chance to talk to him.

I will be talking to him more, and hopefully there is somebody back in the Valley, in Phoenix, that can help me out.

Definitely it’s scary.  It’s no way to go through [life].  It’s only been six or eight weeks, but I just had my sister’s wedding last week and I’m going there wondering if I’m going to have one of those episodes and freak out.

So it’s just been an ongoing battle.  I’ve just got to figure out what to do to get past it.

Hopefully, he will hold it together for one last round and win his first PGA Tour tournament. Now that he’s come this far, he sees it’s in reach and it’s his for the taking.

I’m just going to try to do the same thing, you know.  This health thing, I wish I could just say that I forget about it, but it sticks in my mind and it’s a constant battle.  That’s why I’ve gone through all these different things.

I’ve played with Brian Gay; I haven’t played with Josh Teater [his two fellow competitors for Sunday].  But just going to hang out with my caddie tomorrow and hit some long drives down the middle of the fairway hopefully make some putts and do my best.

And hopefully disarm the ticking time bomb of his anxieties.

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3 Responses to Charlie Beljan: Ticking Time Bomb

  1. jeff glosser says:

    Charlie deserves honorary Marine Corps status.

  2. Bob Rogers says:

    Charlie Belgjan’s ordeal brings to mind the increasingly forgotten near-death experience of Ken Venturi en route to his 1964 U.S. Open victory in the sultry heat of a Washington summer at Congressional. If memory serves, a priest was actually following him in case the need arose to perform last rites. Oh ya, in those days they played 36 holes on the final day.

    • Bill Rand says:

      Early on Friday, the commentators on the Golf Channel were saying that this was near the equivalent of Venturi’s ordeal. But that was before it became truly dire on the back nine. So I agree with you that they are fairly comparable, especially given the determination Belgan exhibited on Saturday.