Dizzy world of a pro golfer living on the brink

JOSEPH ROMANOS
Last updated 07:05 12/11/2012

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Forget the All Blacks, our cricketers and netballers or even Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray in London. American golfer Charlie Beljan has been the great sports story of the past few days.

The 2012 US PGA circuit finished with a tournament at Disney World, Florida, over the weekend.

The final event of the season is always frenetic.

Golfers must finish the year among the top 125 money-winners to qualify for the following season. Many desperate golfers on the cusp line up full of hope.

Beljan, a 28-year-old from Arizona, was one of them. He was 139th on the money-list and needed a great week.

Unfortunately he felt terrible, as he had for some weeks.

Before his second round, he was suffering from shortness of breath and dizziness.

Doctors found his blood pressure to be dangerously high.

He was advised not to play. But this tournament was a make-or-breaker and he'd shot a promising 68 in the opening round.

So out he went. Concerned medical staff trailed after him.

He felt so ill that he confided to his caddy he thought he was going to die. Sometimes he had to lie down before playing.

Amazingly, he shot a 64 and led the tournament. After signing his scorecard, he was taken from the course in a stretcher and spent the night in hospital. He managed just one hour's sleep, then returned against doctors' orders to play his third round, after which he still led.

Beljan's effort brings to mind other memorable sports achievements in the face of adversity.

Tiger Woods won his last Major, the 2008 US Open, with a broken leg. Serena Williams won two Grand Slam events and the Olympics this year after almost dying in 2011 because of a blood clot.

Cyclist Lance Armstrong would have been one of sport's all-time inspiring stories, recovering from testicular cancer when given only a 20 per cent chance of surviving, to win seven consecutive Tour de France titles.

However, revelations about his drug cheating have tainted the Armstrong story.

What about Hungarian Karoly Takacs, a champion pistol shooter who had his right hand (his shooting hand) blown off by a grenade in 1938?

He returned to the Olympics in 1948 and 1952, winning gold medals while shooting with his left hand.

Pete Sampras beat Jim Courier in five dramatic sets in their quarter-final match in the 1995 Australian Open.

Tim Gullikson, Sampras' coach, had just returned home for treatment for a brain tumour that subsequently killed him.

Sampras lost the first two sets to Courier and was clearly struggling emotionally.

Then someone in the crowd shouted out: "Do it for your coach."

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Sampras' resolve firmed and he won in five sets, though he played the final set in tears.

More dramatic still was the story of New Zealander Katerina Nehua, who was living in Sydney when the Depression hit.

Her husband was out of work and she had four young children, including a nine-week-old baby. There was no money, not even enough to feed the family.

Then she heard about a marathon swimming contest to be held in the tidal baths at Manly.

She weaned her baby and used the last of the family money for the tram ride to the baths.

Organisers, concerned she had not eaten for days, fed her chocolate and beef tea.

Then she jumped in the cold, choppy water and swam for 47hr 52min before she was pulled out by officials, who feared for her health.

Champion English swimmer Mercedes Gleitze won the contest, but was so impressed by Nehua's effort in finishing second that she shared her winnings.

The £200 earnings ($20,000 today) saved Nehua's family from starvation.

Beljan's situation last weekend was different.

There were no thoughts of starvation or financial ruin, but for drama and determination to overcome the odds, it was still a never-to-be forgotten story.

- The Marlborough Express

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