PGA rookie Charlie Beljan was hospitalized with shortness of breath and an elevated heart rate on Friday after firing an eight-under par 64 to seize the lead at a PGA event.
Beljan, a 28-year-old US golfer fighting to keep his playing rights for next year in this season’s final event, stood on 12-under-par 132 with a three-shot lead after the second round of the US$4.7 million Children’s Miracle Network Classic.
However, during a five-hour round in which he told caddie Rick Adcox that he thought his life was about to end, Beljan learned from paramedics that his blood pressure was high and he had to sit down on several occasions.
“He was scared,” Adcox said. “He kept saying he thought he was going to die. He just had that feeling. I don’t know why, but it was spooky.”
Seconds after signing his scorecard, Beljan was put on a stretcher and loaded onto an ambulance just off the 18th green at the Disney complex’s Palm Course and taken to Celebration Hospital for tests.
“I thought they were going to stop him on 10 when they told him what the blood pressure was,” the caddy said.
“He just said: ‘I’m going to keep going until either I pass out or they take me off.’ I kept saying: ‘It doesn’t matter to me. It’s only a golf tournament. You’ve got many more,’” he added.
Beljan said late on Friday night he planned to play in yesterday’s third round and his agent, Andy Dawson, said he felt much better and planned on playing even if he was kept in the hospital overnight for observation.
“As long as they tell me I’m not going to fall over and die,” Beljan told the Golf Channel. “I’m hoping it was just a panic attack.”
Beljan said he suffered brief panic attacks in recent weeks, having become a new father just seven weeks ago.
Beljan began the week at 139th on the US PGA Tour money list with US$527,528 and needing to jump into the top 125 of the season prize money chart to keep his playing rights for next season.
Winning the tournament would bring a top prize of US$846,000 and take Beljan to 65th on the money list. It would likely take a top 10 finish to end his year in the top 125.
Sharing second on 135 were Japan’s Ryuji Imada, South Korean Charlie Wi, Australian Matt Jones, Sweden’s Henrik Stenson and the US’ Harris English, Mark Anderson and Charles Howell.
The last two rounds will be played on the tougher Magnolia course.
Beljan had made the cut in only six of 18 prior events, with his best finish of shared third at the Greenbrier Classic in July and a share of 10th at the McGladrey Classic last month.
However, with his career on the line, he came out firing, opening the second round with an eagle at the par-five first.
“He got up there and made the eagle, and still said he didn’t feel good,” Adcox said.
Birdies followed at the par-three third, par-four fifth and par-five seventh even as Beljan began to feel a numbness in his arms and needing deep breaths.
The US’ Edward Loar, who played alongside Beljan, said: “It was bizarre. I don’t know if he thought he was going to make it. It sure didn’t affect his golf. Hopefully, the guy was all right. He was having a hard time breathing in there.”
Loar later posted a get-well message for Beljan on Twitter.
“Great playing by Charlie today … hope he is feeling better & can recover for tomorrow … par 5 killer,” Loar said.
Beljan began the back nine with a birdie, then eagled the par-five 11th.
“He hit four of the best iron shots I’ve seen on the par-fives,” Loar said. “It was awesome to watch.”
After a bogey at the 12th, he bounced back with birdies on the next two holes and led even after a bogey at 17.
Beljan never realized he was ahead until after the round, his caddie said.
Jones, who fired a 64 for his low round of the year, and Imada must finish higher to crack the season’s top 125.