WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS - In baseball terms, you could call it a jump from the West Virginia Power all the way to the parent Pittsburgh Pirates.That's what Charlie Beljan is experiencing this year as a raw rookie on the PGA Tour, and it hasn't been pretty. He has made just four of 12 cuts, not finished higher than 29th and has earned just $62,938.Wherever you want to draw a "Mendoza Line," he's under it.But maybe not for long, after his 8-under-par 62 Friday left him one stroke behind leader Webb Simpson in the second round of the Greenbrier Classic.
Beljan, pronounced similar to the waffle, played the previous five years on something called the Gateway Pro Tour. He won eight tournaments and led that tour twice in earnings.And yes, the Gateway Tour is rather obscure, though it has paid out more than $42 million since its 2001 inception. It plays in Arizona and California.As Beljan puts it, "It's a mini-tour that is based out of Phoenix. It's wonderful - you wake up every morning, you have a 30-minute drive, tee off early, you're back home by 11 [a.m.] and you've got the rest of the day to do what you want."A native of Mesa, Ariz., he won the U.S. Junior Amateur, qualified for the 2008 and 2009 U.S. Opens and finished 64th in a Nationwide Tour event, the 2011 Utah Championship. Later that year, he took his first shot at the PGA Tour Qualifying Tournament - "Q School" in the lingo - and finished tied for 13th.That was well inside the 25 spots and ties needed to play on the tour. All of a sudden, he entered The Show, and he's playing past 11 a.m.But more often than not, only on Thursdays and Fridays. His first rounds have been his undoing, as he is averaging a wicked 74.17 strokes. He has shot an 83 and has withdrawn twice after bad first rounds.He is not down about it, though. He is a free spirit who wants to strap himself to the wing of a bi-plane and owns two motorcycles. Shoot, he wants to run something called the Isle of Man TT Race."I don't know where it's at," he said. "But one day I'd like to take my motorcycle and run that 39-mile stretch."
He is getting a similar adrenaline rush from his 62, Friday's best round. That took him to places he has never seen on the tour.Like the top of the leader board. And the media interview room. And in front of large galleries."Every week out here is a blast," he said. "It's something I've worked for my whole life. Now I've been out here and playing in front of the people. For me, I live for the people.
"But I had the media show up and the cameras show up somewhere on my back nine today, and I've never had that happen, and I just kind of took it with a grain of salt, kept plugging away."Encore for Estes?All three players from last year's playoff have put themselves in position to be a factor again.
Bob Estes was the best of the group, firing a second-round 65 on Friday to move to 6 under for the tournament and three shots off the lead. Estes' round started strong with a birdie at No. 1 and he never slowed down, notching five birdies against no bogeys.Obviously, Estes has found a groove at Old White TPC and he explained what has allowed him to stay so solid."This golf course isn't one where you hit driver off of every tee," Estes said. "It's not a real long golf course, there are plenty of 5-woods and 3-woods off a lot of the tees. A lot of it, you're playing for position, kind of fitting it in between the bunkers. Then you have to be an accurate iron player and control your distance, and that's one of the things I do best."
Estes' score in the morning Friday continued a trend over the first two days in which players playing early have seen a friendlier course than those in the afternoon."[Thursday] was much trickier because the wind was blowing in every direction," Estes said. "It was gusting at times, it was swirling. A lot of times you might pull a club and it's blowing one way and as soon as you hit it, it's coming the other direction. It was just more difficult to pick the right club and get the ball closer to the hole [Thursday]."Hold the phoneCell-phone abuse appears to be benign, especially compared to a previous tournament in the Columbus, Ohio, area.There is a little confusion on the Old White TPC, however.Marshals have been generally courteous in reminding fans about putting their phones on silent, and not taking pictures or videos.The rules on using phones for other purposes has a few marshals stumped, it appears.The tour policy, as listed in the pre-tournament media notes, reads as follows: "Fans can send/receive messages, check data and utilize the PGA Tour app on the course away from play.The phrase "away from play" can be a gray area. It's clear that texting while a golfer is over his ball or lining up a putt is an obvious no-no, but texting from the side of the fairway during a golfer's walk to his ball may be confusing.This is not: Some marshals have told patrons to put their phones in their pocket. Nothing in the policy, as provided to the media, prohibits the simple act of carrying phones.BrieflyRight before the weather delay, John Daly brought the house down on No. 8, the difficult par-3. Putting from off the green, he hit from 71 feet.
Daly was playing in the group behind Tiger Woods, Webb Simpson and Scott Stricker, and had a good following. The birdie put him at 4-under.Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, email@example.com
or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.