I don’t know Charlie Beljan. Have never met him, never interviewed him. But I’ve seen him play golf on television a few times, which means he can play the game at a very high level.
But especially after watching him last weekend at the Children’s Miracle Network Hospital Classic, I feel like I know him, feel like he’s much easier to identify with than many other players who have won events on the PGA Tour.
Beljan fell victim to panic attacks starting Friday in Orlando, the kind of attacks that presented themselves as heart attack symptoms: difficulty breathing, increased heart rate, loss of feeling in his arms.
He had experienced these symptoms previously, but had been thoroughly checked out by doctors who emphasized to him that he wasn’t having heart attacks and that his heart was functioning well.
That didn’t help him much at Disney, where he started feeling his heart racing even as he warmed up before the second round. It got worse, to the point that paramedics were called to monitor him, step-by-step around the back nine. He would sit down between shots to catch his breath, stagger to his feet and hit the next shot.
Did I mention he shot a 64 to take the lead in the tournament? A 64, that was the second-lowest round of his rookie season on the PGA Tour.
Beljan is not the first, nor will he be the last player to have had such extreme problems with his nerves. At the Players Championship in May, Kevin Na’s nerves got to him to the point that he couldn’t pull the trigger, even after several starts, re-starts, an endless stream of waggles as well as yelling at himself.
It was even worse for Robert Karlsson who withdrew the day before the start of the British Open. He had started to freeze when he took the club back during a practice round and decided not to compete.
In 2005, at the 84 Lumber Classic near Pittsburgh, David Toms took a couple steps off the 10th tee and dropped to a knee because of an extremely rapid heart rate. He was taken to a hospital, examined and diagnosed with supraventricular tachycardia, a condition that required surgery to correct.
While Toms’ condition was more physical than mental, it goes to show that there’s more going on with professional golfers than aching backs, sore elbows, etc.
You’ve heard the story how Beljan signed his scorecard and was taken to a hospital where he was examined, poked and prodded before being told again that physically, he was fine.
He was advised to rest, but because he was leading the tournament and because he was outside the top 125 on the PGA Tour’s money list that would guarantee his playing privileges in 2013, Beljan headed to the golf course Saturday morning for his third-round tee time.
This is where the Charlie Beljan story gets even more interesting.
He knew if he didn’t try to find a way to play and take a shot at getting that first win, he’d have limited opportunities to play on the PGA Tour in 2013. That would mean there would be even more pressure on him to perform well to make a living.
He cried on the range Saturday morning, fearful that the symptoms would return, quietly worrying that, even though he’d been told his heart was fine, it might fail him.
It wasn’t easy for him either Saturday or Sunday, but he hung in there and was able to win. His playing future is secure, the win giving him a PGA Tour card for two years. He now has the offseason to take whatever steps he feels necessary to battle the nerves that tortured him in Orlando.
But as Beljan said in an interview with The New York Times earlier this week, “I don’t think it’s been the golf that’s done it at all,” he said. “I’ve had a lot of people try to diagnose me who have told me they’ve had the same problem, but I don’t think it’s the stress of the tour. It’s everything I’ve had going on this year.”
He points to his marriage at the beginning of the year and the birth of their first child in September as contributing factors. He said his first panic attack happened a month before the birth of the baby as he passed out on an airplane that needed to make an emergency landing so he could receive attention.
Beljan is 28 years old and entering the prime of his golfing career and his life.
He won the 2002 U.S. Junior Amateur and has become something of a daredevil with a pair of motorcycles in his garage and a desire to fly on the wing of a bi-plane.
Based on the things that have taken place in Beljan’s life, it seems as though it’s time for all of that daredevil energy to be channeled into getting a grip on the important things in his life. And that would include, but not limited to, the panic attack issue and his golf.