By Aaron Healy
PHOENIX – Pro golfer Charlie Beljan has experienced many career-defining moments, none more impactful than when he played in the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals Classic.
In the second round of the tournament, Beljan started experiencing shortness of breath and a high heart rate that created discomfort throughout the day. The cause was later discovered to be anxiety.
“I didn’t even know what anxiety was until I was carted off on national television on a stretcher,” Beljan said. “I thought I was having a heart attack. I didn’t know what it was until I was 29 years old.”
Beljan, who is attempting to qualify Monday for the WM Phoenix Open, managed to finish the final rounds Saturday and Sunday and won the tournament by two strokes.
But soon after winning the tournament, anxiety took over Beljan’s entire life.
“That led me down my path of destruction because the only way I could feel better was drinking or getting high or popping Xanax, it was a vicious cycle,” Beljan said. “I struggled with it big time, to the point where I couldn’t even turn door handles to go outside because I was so anxious and so nervous.”
Using drugs and alcohol was Beljan’s way of coping with anxiety. Knowing that anxiety was lurking behind every swing, Beljan worked hard to prepare for upcoming tournaments.
“Every single tournament I teed it up for, I had anxiety. I never had any trouble with practice rounds or leading up to the tournament,” Beljan said. “The second my eyes opened on a Thursday morning, extreme anxiety.
“I didn’t have a way to beat it, so I just had to face it and be uncomfortable for the day until I could get to the drinks at nightime.”
Beljan came to the realization that the only way to play golf was to become sober. Since that moment, his anxiety has been under control. He celebrated 27 months of sobriety by winning the McCormick Open last week in Scottsdale. He will look to do the same at next week’s Phoenix Open if he qualifies Monday.
“For me growing up and doing golf, there was so much pressure and so many expectations that I had,” Beljan said. “I went down the wrong road searching for things to make me feel better, but that’s what I’ve overcome.”
Beljan, 38, was born and raised in Mesa, where he attended Red Mountain High School. Throughout his childhood, he played football and swam for 12 years. After sustaining an injury from football, Beljan quickly switched to golf and hasn’t looked back since. His love for the game developed from attending the Waste Management Open as a kid.
“In sixth grade my dad let me skip school to go to the Phoenix Open, and I was there when Tiger Woods made that hole-in-one,” Beljan said. “Everyone went ballistic, and then a few months later he won the Masters. I was like this is cool, this is what I want to do.”
Since then, Beljan has dedicated long hours at the range and on the greens to improve.
“As soon as school was over, it was straight to the golf course and we went home when the sun went down,” Beljan said. “In the summer time it was 5:30 in the morning tee times and playing all through the day. Literally my whole life was if the sun was up and the weather was good, it was golf.
“I had a guy by the name of Steve Dallas that took me in when I was about 14. He helped build my swing and my parents didn’t really have any money to do travel tournaments so he provided the financial backing for me to play tournaments and that’s how I got rolling.”
In Beljan’s early years, he found success by winning local tournaments and built the confidence to possibly make a career out of golf. He was a three-time state and regional champion, and also won the 2002 U.S. Junior Amateur at the Atlanta Athletic Club. In 2011, Beljan tied for 13th at the PGA Tour Qualifying Tournament at PGA West to officially earn Tour privileges.
In 2012, Beljan had a tremendous run playing in multiple tournaments. He entered the Greenbrier Classic, where he shot his career-best 62 in the second round and tied for 3rd place overall. He also entered the McGladrey Classic, where he had a top-10 finish.
Beljan’s success and life-changing mindset has people reaching out to him for podcast interviews or inspiration. His story has been read and heard by many, and they have found it helpful in their own lives.
“Now my inboxes, phone and instagram are just, ‘Hey man can you help me, I’ve seen how you’ve transformed your life,’” Beljan said. “I had to figure out my life and now that I have it’s pretty darn good.”
Since becoming an inspiration to so many, Beljan has spoken at many schools to share his experiences with anxiety. He regularly visits Red Mountain to support the school in many ways. Boys golf coach Frank Campos finds his story invaluable to the team.
“This is someone that’s a mountain lion always and forever,” Campos said. “Every year, he’ll come out and talk to the boys, there’s been times where he’s come and played with some of our guys and when we have our fundraiser he always comes back and makes donations.”
“That’s something pretty special about Red Mountain. A lot of our alumni are tight knit like that.”
Beljan’s next goal is to place in the top 3 at Monday’s Waste Management Qualifier at the McCormick Ranch Golf Club. Playing in front of your home crowd is an advantage, unlike any other, that many players have experienced.
“It’s a dream come true, some people dream of winning the Masters, or making a putt to win a major as a kid, but to play in front of your hometown, to play in front of hundreds of thousands of people, for me there’s no bigger golf tournament,” Beljan said.