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Beljan loves New York-New York

 
By BILL HUFFMAN
            Charlie Beljan has an aggressive nature, which is why he only thought twice about joining Tiger Woods for breakfast Tuesday morning at Bethpage Black, the site of this week’s U.S. Open.
           “I figured, hey, Tiger puts his pants on one leg at a time, just like I do, so the heck with it,’’ said Beljan of the defending U.S. Open champ. “I simply walked up to him at breakfast and told him that I was proud that my name was on the same trophy (U.S. Junior Amateur) as his (name). . . .
           “We just got to talking about our experiences, kind of hit it off, and one thing led to another and we were eating and talking and enjoying the moment. I’d never talked to him before but it was a really genuine conversation and I really enjoyed it.’’
           Like everyone else in the world, Beljan knows that Tiger is the No. 1 player on the planet and the heavy favorite — 7-to-4 in Las Vegas – this week.
           But did Tiger know who Charlie was before they shared egg and toast?
          “Heck, no, but he does now,’’ said the loosey-goosey, 24-year-old kid from Mesa who had to get through two stages of qualifying before he arrived Sunday on  Long Island.
          “Hopefully, he’ll learn a little more about me this weekend.’’
         That’s Beljan, a big, tall, talented kid who won the U.S. Junior Amateur in 2002, the same year he captured medalist honors at the Arizona Boys High School Championship on his way to leading Red Mountain High School to its third straight championship.
          Make no mistake, Beljan has game. Even though it’s only surfaced at the Gateway Tour level, he can dial long distance with the best of them and when his putter is right go the distance. This year, he is closing in on a Gateway Tour record $150,000 in winnings after posting three victories.
        “For me, the U.S. Open represents my own personal ‘big break,’ ’’ Beljan explained. “I felt like that a week ago before I got to Bethpage, and now after playing it (on Monday and Tuesday), I feel even more like that.
        “The course is very appealing to my eye, much more so than Torrey Pines, which I really didn’t care for all that much. Yeah, (Bethpage) is long (7,445 yards), but it’s still a shot-maker’s course where you have to work the ball and I love that.’’
         Last year, Beljan also qualified for the national championship. But when he got to Torrey Pines, it all went “South,’’ literally, with rounds of 76-79. But being a fun-seeking kind of guy, Beljan stuck around for the weekend and partied instead of playing golf.
        This time he hopes his trip to New York is a little more serious.
      “I think last year, I was just awe-struck, plain and simple,’’ Beljan recalled. “That and I made a bunch of double bogeys and a triple (bogey).
      “This time I’m a lot more comfortable, and I really like the way the course sets up for my game. Yes, you have to drive it far, but you also have to hit fairways and greens, so it’s a nice mix of both.’’
       So tell us, Charlie, what’s your best score in two trips around the brutal but beautiful Bethpage Black?
      “I haven’t kept score,’’ Beljan said, chuckling at the thought. “Me and my caddie have been playing a little game called hitting the fairway, and I think I’ve hit about 10 (out of 14) each day, so that’s good.’’
       Beljan added that he thinks the “big deal’’ this week will be the weather. So far, that wildcard has played out in a significant way, as the course has been deluged by the wet stuff for the past two weeks, including a heavy downpour Monday night.
     “The course is really wet, and that’s going to make it a driving contest, which is good for me,’’ he said. “Plus, you can stick it on the greens – and they’re slow because of the rain — so the scores might be a little lower than the last time they had the U.S. Open here (2002).
      “The rain is not going away, is the way I understand it. It’s supposed to be wet around here for the next four days, which means those (scoring) conditions will remain pretty much the same.’’
       Beljan said he was a little bit surprised that Bethpage Black didn’t have more teeth. Like he was expecting ball-eating rough, which just isn’t the case.
      “The first cut you can still spin the ball, and the second cut you can get out of it with a 7- or 8-iron (rather than a wedge),’’ he reported. “But if you go beyond that (third or fourth cut), you’re dead. And the rough around the green also is pretty narly.’’
       As for the notorious seventh holes, at 525 yards the longest par 4 in Open history, well, forgetta-bout-it!
      “I love that hole. It’s such a great golf hole!’’ Beljan said like a true gunslinger from out West. “The farther you carry it off the tee the better, except you’ve also got to hit it to the left side of the fairway or you’ve probably got no shot.
      “It’s a legitimate driver and a hybrid to get there, and that works for me. Seriously, I think this is going to be a really good week.’’
       Hopefully, we won’t have to say, “Sorry, Charlie,’’ when the cut comes on Friday. Beljan certainly doesn’t lack confidence, but Bethpage Black has destroyed more than one player’s moxie.
      Remember, last time golf’s best tested this A.W. Tillinghast-designed gem, only Woods ended up in red numbers (3 under) with Phil Mickelson came in second at level par.
     But Bethpage Black also could be a perfect launching pad for Beljan, who thrives on the kind of craziness that New York seems to offer.
      “These fans are unbelievable,’’ Beljan pointed out in semi-disbelief. “(Tuesday morning) when Tiger was warming up on the range, they were screaming for his autograph, and when he didn’t grant it they started calling him a (butthead) even dropping F-bombs with security only a few feet away. In fact, there were more police there than I’ve ever seen in my life. . . .
      “But that’s the thing about New Yorkers, they are loud and obnoxious but – believe it or not! — some of the nicest people I’ve ever been around. They’re just a different breed out here on this side (of the country).’’
       Which is why Beljan said no matter if he wins, loses or misses the cut, he plans to stick around and enjoy New York-New York.
       “Hey, you only live once, and I want to do it my way,’’ Beljan said, alluding to the old Frank Sinatra line in his usual go-for-it style.
      “So I plan to soak up the sights of the city and get myself some of that great New York grub – pizza, pasta and steaks — maybe a little cheesecake.’’
      If that’s the case, start spreading the news that Charlie Beljan wants to be part of it. . . .