LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Charlie Beljan felt as if his heart was about to burst out of his chest Sunday at Disney, and he couldn’t have felt better.
This wasn’t another panic attack gone wild, like the one that sent him to the hospital in an ambulance after the second round and made him feel like he was going to die. This was the prospect of winning on the PGA Tour for the first time.
The roller coasters at the Magic Kingdom are nothing like what Beljan went through in the final PGA Tour event of the year.
Two days after he was wheeled out of the scoring room on a stretcher, the 28-year-old rookie was celebrating on the 18th green as the band played “Zippity-Do-Dah.” He arrived at the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals Classic with his job in jeopardy, and left with a two-year exemption that will send him to Maui at the start of the year, the PGA Championship at Oak Hill and lots of other tournaments where winners belong.
“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 after closing with a 3-under 69 for a two-shot win. “And I’m so grateful and so honored.”
By the sound of it, he was lucky to be playing.
Beljan could hardly breathe and his blood pressure spiked during his second round, when paramedics followed him around the back nine. After sleeping for only an hour or so in the hospital after a variety of tests, he played Saturday fearful of having another panic attack. And when he awoke Sunday morning, his head was throbbing and his stomach felt queasy.
Once he got on the golf course, the rest was easy.
Beljan ran off five birdies in a six-hole stretch around the turn, twice knocking in putts from around 30 feet, and built a five-shot lead. A double bogey made it close, but only until he made birdie on the next hole. He tapped in one last putt, tossed his putter to the side of the green, pumped his fist in celebration and hoisted his 7-week-old son.
Robert Garrigus and Matt Every each closed with a 68 and tied for second.
“It was incredible,” Beljan said. “I was happy that I was a PGA Tour champion. I was happy that my wife and my baby were here. It still isn’t real.”
Just three weeks ago, he feared he would have to go to the second stage of Q-school, no guarantee that he would have a tour card for next year. Suddenly, he can make plans for the Tournament of Champions at Kapalua, for events hosted by Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods.
“I don’t know what other perks come with winning, but I know every single one of them is pretty darn good,” he said.
Beljan finished on 16-under 272 and became the fourth rookie to win on tour this year.
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.
Beljan earned $846,000 for the victory, capping a long, hectic season in which he learned he was going to be a father, got married in March and first began suffering panic attacks after he passed out on a flight home from the Reno-Tahoe Open in early August.
Beljan showed a few signs that he might crack. He three-putted from behind the fifth green, and then was disgusted with an approach that just missed the green to the left on No. 7. After getting a drop because his left foot was on a sprinkler head, he rolled in an 18-foot birdie off the green, screamed “Go!” at a wedge that obeyed him and settled a foot away for a tap-in birdie on the eighth, and then holed a 30-foot birdie on the ninth.
He’s so long off the tee that the par-5 10th was the easiest of his four straight birdies, and when he knocked in a 30-footer on No. 12, Beljan’s lead was up to five shots.
There was only one nervous moment after that.
Instead of playing it safe off the tee at the 13th, he hit driver into the woods, went into a bunker, then across the green, and made a quick double bogey. Garrigus made a birdie ahead of him on the 14th, and suddenly, the lead was only two shots.
No need to panic.
Beljan’s 12-foot birdie putt on the 14th caught just enough of the right side of the cup to fall. Garrigus didn’t make another birdie, and Beljan’s only other big blunder was knocking a birdie attempt some 7 feet by the cup at No. 16. He made that one coming back for par, and reached the 18th tee with a three-shot lead.
Typical of the final event of the year, all the drama was on the ever-changing money list.
Herron looked to be in good shape until he hit his tee shot into the water on the 17th hole and made double bogey, and then had a 20-foot birdie putt hang on the edge of the cup on the 18th. He figured he needed that to get his card, and walking off the green he stepped on his bag and gave it a swift kick. He was ready to give the bag another kick when Golf Channel announcer Billy Andrade said he might be safe.
Wi and Teater, playing one group apart, hit the fairway and the green on the 18th for regulation pars to spare Chappell, who started the week at No. 123. Teater, in the final group, ran his birdie putt about 2½ feet by the hole, but knocked that in and Chappell was safe.
Chappell tweeted, “Well I am glad that is over thanks for all the support. I look forward to improving this off season and making sure this never happens again.”