LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) – Charlie Beljan thought he was only fighting for his PGA Tour card in the final event at Disney.
As he struggled to take a breath over five frightening hours on Friday, with paramedics following him along the back nine when they were alarmed by his blood pressure, there were times when Beljan wondered if he was fighting for something far more important.
“He kept saying he thought he was going to die,'' caddie Rick Adcox said.
Beljan, a 28-year-old tour rookie, knew something was wrong on the practice range when he got ready for his second round, and he asked his caddie to find a doctor. Heading over to the Palm Course, he ripped a long iron onto the green at the par-5 opening hole and when Adcox handed him his putter, Beljan told him he didn't feel good.
“He got up there and made the eagle and still said he didn't feel good,'' Adcox said. “It's been not good all day. The score was good.''
Considering the circumstances, the score was remarkable.
Despite straining to take a breath, kneeling with his head bowed before it was his turn to putt, even sitting down in the fairway to rest, Beljan made two eagles on his way to an 8-under 64 that gave him a three-shot lead going into the weekend at the Children's Miracle Network Hospitals Classic.
Now it's a matter of Beljan playing the final two rounds, critical to his career because he is No. 139 on the money list. Only the top 125 have full status for the following season, and Beljan likely would need to finish around 10th.
A surreal, sometimes scary afternoon across the Magic Kingdom ended with Beljan making a superb pitch to save par for his 64, going into a hotel room to sign his card and then leaving on a stretcher that wheeled him to an ambulance parked not far from the 18th green.
His agent sent a text message to the PGA Tour from Celebration Hospital that Beljan was waiting on tests, feeling better and hopeful of being released Friday night. The agent, Andy Dawson, said even if Beljan stayed overnight, he still planned to play the third round on Saturday.
The tour said Beljan complained of an elevated heart rate, shortness of breath and heart palpitations. Adcox said Beljan told him of numbness in his arms and he felt like he was going to faint.
“I thought they were going to stop him on 10 when they told him what the blood pressure was,'' Adcox 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.'''
The struggle was painfully clear the way Beljan constantly stooped over with his hands on his knees, backed off shots and tried to take deep breaths. That he wound up in the lead at 12-under 132 was simply amazing.
“It was bizarre,'' said Edward Loar, who played with Beljan. “I don't know if he thought he was going to make it. It sure didn't affect his golf. I heard him call for a paramedic on No. 9. Before the round, he said he was having a hard time breathing. Hopefully, the guy was all right. He was having a hard time breathing in there.''
Beljan had a three-shot lead over seven players, including Henrik Stenson, Harris English, Charles Howell III and first-round leader Charlie Wi. He likely would need to finish in about 10th place to move into the top 125 and keep a job for next year – assuming he can even play.
Golf didn't seem to be a big priority at Disney, and there were concerns Beljan would even finish his round.
“I thought a lot of times he was going to stop,'' Adcox said. “I didn't even think he was going to start. He asked me to go find a doctor at the beginning, and I did. The paramedics … were on No. 10 waiting on him. Blood pressure wasn't good then. For him to go on, that was pretty much his decision.
When he did get over a shot, the outcome generally was superb.
“He hit four of the best iron shots I've seen on the par 5s,'' Loar said. “It was awesome to watch.''
The caddie said they didn't pay attention to the score Beljan was putting together, and because they were playing on the Palm Course that doesn't have many leaderboards, they didn't even know Beljan was in the lead until the round was over.
They simply started a countdown – one more hole, one more shot.
“Not feeling good,'' Beljan said into a camera after finishing the 15th hole. “Three more holes.''
Beljan had two eagles and played the par 5s in 6 under. He struggled to finish, picking up a bogey on the 17th and missing the green to the right on the 18th. Facing a difficult chip, made even tougher that he looked wobbly over the ball, he hit a beautiful shot to 4 feet to save par.
The final two rounds move to the tougher Magnolia Course, which effectively feels like the final stage of Q-school for some of the players. Matt Jones and Mark Anderson, in that group at 9-under 135, can avoid going to the second stage of Q-school. Wi needs a win to have any hope of getting into the Masters. English is going for his first win.
Rod Pampling will have to sweat out his future at home in Dallas for the second straight year. He is No. 124 on the money list, made bogeys on the 16th and 17th holes and missed the cut by one shot. All that helps Pampling is that Billy Mayfair, who is No. 125 on the money list, also missed the cut, as did Gary Christian at No. 127.
Kevin Chappell was at No. 123, but he put together another solid round and suddenly is only four shots out of the lead. His card would appear to be safe.