Arizona Amateur: results from the 82nd

SCOTTSDALE, AZ (July 22, 2006) -- Jack Nicklaus may have designed the Outlaw Course at Desert Mountain, but Mesa’s Charlie Beljan clearly owned it this week at the 82nd Arizona Amateur Championship capturing the prestigious title with an eagle three on the 532-yard par 5 16th hole to defeat Aaron Manning 3 & 2. It’s a hole that should have his name emblazoned across the green as he played it at 10-under par this week, never walking away with less than a birdie.

“This is incredible,” Beljan said. “It feels good to be winning again and this is a good start. Mentally, I’ve had to overcome some barriers. I’m playing stronger and have made some positive steps. I’m really looking forward to doing better and having a great year at the University of New Mexico next year.”

The former junior standout from Red Mountain High School captured the 2002 U.S. Junior Amateur Championship. In major Championships, he began to stumble. In 2004, he was the medallist and No. 1 seed at the Arizona Amateur Championship and proceeded to be knocked out in the first round. The same fate befell him in 2005 at the U.S. Amateur.

Teeing it up this year, he again earned medalist honors, sharing them this time with Manning, but escaping the pressure of the No. 1 seed by virtue of the fact that Manning completed his second qualifying round before Beljan.

The story line was set as the co-medalists, who grew up competing against each other, breezed through matches easily dispatching their opponents with great golf shots and solid putting, which put them on a collision course for a final showdown.

For the 21-year-old Beljan, who earned a second chance to conquer his demons, he rose to the challenge with an impressive display from the first tee and took control of the match going 4 up through four holes.

“I was playing aggressive and wanted to put the pressure on him to make the good shots,” he said.

A gracious runner-up, Manning was understandably disappointed, but also philosophical about the loss.

“I do expect to play well every round, but sometime it doesn’t happen that way,” the 22-year-old said. “It’s tough to come back, but I hung in there and missed some short putts. Just to be here and compete in this Championship match is incredible. A lot of people would want to be in my shoes.”

To his credit, Manning did hang in there all day, starting small rallies that chipped away at Beljan’s lead, beginning with a birdie 3 on the 367-yard fifth hole when he nearly drove the green and chipped up leaving himself a one foot putt for birdie. On the sixth hole, he took advantage of a rare Beljan misstep when he blasted out of one greenside bunker into another. The hole was conceded to Manning when Beljan couldn’t get up and down.

The comeback stopped when Beljan sank a six-footer for par on the par 3 seventh and Manning missed his 12-foot par putt to put Beljan’s lead back to 3 up. His lead was again increased to 4 up when Beljan rolled a long 20-footer from just off the back fringe to the edge of the hole on the 538-yard ninth hole for birdie, while Manning three-putted for bogey.

Manning started to rally again, winning the 11th and then the 13th holes to cut Beljan’s lead to 2 up, but the holes were running out and Beljan kept the pressure on making clutch putts to halve the holes. As they approached the 16th tee, one that held nothing but positive memories for the leader, he knew that this was his first chance to close out the match and did so in dramatic fashion.

His textbook approach shot, that would be the envy of any great champion, came to rest within a foot of the hole and almost surely another eagle three. Manning in a true display of sportsmanship, quickly conceded the putt, picking up the ball before Beljan could even reach the green.

With one last shot to halve the hole and extend the match, Manning needed to hole it from the back greenside bunker, but came up short.

Even in victory, Beljan’s new calmer demeanor was evident as he reflected back on the week saying, “I didn’t get too high or too low. I looked at it is as just another golf shot, just another round of golf.”

It wasn’t just another round of golf or another tournament, it has a storied history celebrating the best amateur golfers in the Grand Canyon state with such luminous names as Bob Goldwater, Dr. Ed Updegraff, Mark Sollenberger and Ken Kellaney. Unable to truly grasp the full magnitude of the victory just moments after the win, Beljan was clear that this is something that would stand in perpetuity.

“I like putting my name on stuff,” he said joyfully. “My name on that trophy will always be there and no one can take that away from me.”

Cheering on the newly-crowned Champion was Kellaney himself, a nine-time AGA Player of the Year and four-time Arizona Amateur Champion. His appearance on the 11th hole was not lost on Beljan.

“I definitely respect Mr. Kellaney,” he said. “For him to come out, when he wasn’t even playing that really meant something to me. It was very special.”

For complete match play results, click on the tournament link above.

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