LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – With his first PGA Tour victory, Charlie Beljan feels as though he can handle anything golf throws at him.
Only it's not because of the way he played in the final round on Sunday.
It's how he survived the second round on Friday.
Beljan's rookie season ended in a way not even he could have imagined. He showed up figuring the Children's Miracle Network Hospitals Classic would be his last competition until Q-school because he was No. 139 on the money list and Disney was the final event of the year. He had a panic attack so severe on Friday that not only did he struggle to breath and his blood pressure spiked, he thought he was on the verge of missing the cut when in fact he had a three-shot lead.
Taken out of a scoring room on a stretcher, he spent the night in the hospital, forgetting until finally dozing off for an hour that he still was wearing his golf shoes. He returned to Disney on Saturday morning fearful of another panic attack, and he had to fight through one at the turn. And to cap it all off, he pulled away by making five birdies in a six-hole stretch on the Magnolia Course.
Clearly, this was not as simple as saying Beljan shot 69 on the last day and won by two.
"Friday is what I will remember from this week," Beljan said. "And the obviously, being the champion of the tournament, I won't forget that, either. But if I can do what I did on Friday, there's nothing that's not possible for me."
It was an amazing journey, and the 28-year-old was overwhelmed by where it leads next.
For starters, he went from preparing for Q-school to a two-year exemption. He gets to Hawaii a week early for the Tournament of Champions at Kapalua. He can play tournaments hosted by Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods. He'll be at the PGA Championship for only his third major. He played in the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines and Bethpage Black, both times having to go through both qualifying stages.
Somewhere along the way, he'll undergo more tests to see if he can figure out what's wrong with him.
As terrible as it looked — the heaving chest, lying down in the fairway, being followed by paramedics and being loaded into an ambulance — Beljan said doctors found nothing physically wrong.
He figures it was an anxiety attack that spiraled out of control, mainly because he was stuck on a golf course with nowhere to go.
Beljan said he has had a half-dozen other attacks in the past few months, after passing out on a flight home from the Reno-Tahoe Open.
What should put his mind at ease is how he played. He began the final round with a two-shot lead, hit a poor chip and a worse putt to bogey the first hole, bounced back with two birdies on the next three holes, and then three-putted from the fringe on the fifth. He was tied for the lead, when Beljan knocked in an 18-foot putt from just off the green at No. 7, not knowing that would be the first of four straight birdies, and five birdies in a six-hole stretch.
"I knew I was hitting it well," he said. "And as long as I just kept giving myself opportunities, I was going to be all right."
He knocked in a couple of 30-foot birdie putts during his streak to build a five-shot lead, only to make double bogey on the easiest par 4 on the back nine with a drive into the trees and a bunker shot through the green. No matter. One last birdie followed to settle him down.
Robert Garrigus pulled within two shots with his birdie on the 14th, but he made no more and shot 68. Matt Every also had a 68 to tie for second, though he was never a serious factor over the final hour.
Beljan finished 16-under 272 and earned $846,000.
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.
Perhaps it was only fitting that Beljan felt his heart bursting out of his chest on Sunday — "for a great reason," he said, alluding to the excitement of winning. Friday was the frightening variety, but he made it through.
Even after he was cleared at the hospital, Beljan wasn't sure if he could last one hole or all 18 on Saturday. He cleared that hurdle, and then awoke Sunday morning sick to his stomach and with a throbbing headache. Nothing ever comes easily.
"Every day I drove underneath that Disney sign coming in here that said, 'Where dreams come true,' and that's just what happened this week," Beljan said.