Charlie Beljan, the golfer who played through a panic attack to clinch his first PGA victory in November 2012, has a plan to stay calm in 2013: eat more.
Beljan, 28, a self-proclaimed picky eater, said his potassium and sodium levels were dangerously low when he was hospitalized after the first round of the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals Classic in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
“I used to laugh at guys on the tour, always pulling candy bars out of their bags in the middle of the round,” he told the L.A. Times. “Now I know why.”
Beljan said he would go up to 24 hours without eating — a habit he has ditched in favor of frequent snacks in hope of fending off future panic attacks.
“I thought I was having a heart attack,” he told ABC News, describing how he played 18 holes through anxiety symptoms so severe he thought he might pass out. “I told the caddy, I said, ‘I’m not leaving here until I’m getting carted off from the middle of the fairway or somewhere.’”
Beljan eventually was carted off to a nearby hospital, where doctors ruled out heart problems and said he had a sudden onset of anxiety, also known as a panic attack.
“There’s no question there’s a relationship between eating and mood,” said Dr. Jeffrey Janata, division chief of psychology at UH Case Medical Center in Cleveland. “Eating or failing to eat isn’t going to cause anxiety or panic, but it can be a contributor in the sense that if we don’t eat on a regular basis and we’re hungry, it may increase our risk.”
Beljan was also a new dad, juggling do-or-die tournaments with a 7-week-old son.
“In general, the more you stressful events that coexist, the higher the risk of anxiety,” said Janata, who was not involved in Beljan’s treatment.
After leaving the hospital, Beljan returned to the links for two more rounds, finishing 16 under par to become the fourth rookie to win on tour in 2012.
“It was probably a blessing in disguise,” he said of his panic attack, “because I spent more time worrying about breathing and slowing things down.”
Beljan has lost 10 pounds from his 6-foot, 4-inch frame despite the new snacks, the L.A. Times reported. And on Tuesday, while practicing for this weekend’s Hyundai Tournament of Champions in Maui, he surprised friends by pulling out a banana on the second hole.
“They all agreed,” he said of which sight was more surprising: his appearance at the tournament or his fairway snacking. “It was me eating a banana.”