For Bubba Watson, acid reflux caused by poor eating habits led to multiple panic attacks, while Charlie Beljan said his anxiety stemmed from not eating enough.
The golfers, in Hawaii for this week’s PGA Tour kickoff, chatted with reporters about needing hospitalization for stress-induced episodes and for both players food appeared to be a primary culprit.
"What we found out now is acid reflux, which is the same nerve endings as your heart," Watson told Golf Magazine on Wednesday following a press conference in which he divulged that since 2007 he had suffered three panic attacks severe enough to require visits to the ER. "I was eating really, really bad, really unhealthy."
The incidents in 2007 and 2009 occurred while Watson was sleeping and watching television, respectively, and each time the 2012 Masters champ believed he might be having a heart attack. He suffered the most recent assault two years ago but tests along the way indicated nothing physically wrong.
Doctors did suggest that Watson take medication for Attention Deficit Disorder -- advice he chose to ignore.
"They said I needed to get on medicine to calm my mind down -- basically ADD medicine to slow my mind down, basically, because my mind’s always racing," he said. "Just sitting here I’m thinking about a million different things. But I hate taking medicine. I just told them, ‘Well, all right. I’ll just have panic attacks, then.’"
Watson, who has shed more than 30 pounds since he joined the tour in 2006, works with a trainer who helps him maintain a healthier diet. Watson has credited Andrew Fisher with helping him kick the junk food habit.
Bubba "eats clean," Fisher said in an interview two years ago.
"In Bubba, you’re looking at somebody who ate fast food all the time," said Fisher, who noted that Watson followed a low-glycemic food plan to keep his blood sugar levels in check. "It was affecting him to the point that he was suffering from heartburn. He’s got a clean diet now. And he's really stuck to it."
As for Beljan, his problem was almost the opposite of Watson’s; he said he hated food and was running on empty when he feared he might die during the second round of last year’s Disney event.
"I don't like to eat. I don't like food. I wish I could swallow a few pills every morning and not have to chew on anything the rest of the day," Beljan told reporters on Thursday. "Since I've been a kid, I'm not a food fan."
Beljan recounted how he refused to eat a bite at a luau Wednesday night, insisting instead on sticking to his pattern of downing "the same Subway sandwich five days a week for the last eight years and haven't changed it and I'm not willing to try."
What he has modified is his eating routine while playing golf.
"Now I'm eating on the golf course, eating three meals a day," he said. "They might be the same thing every day but at least I'm putting some fuel in my body."
Unlike Watson, Beljan is also on prescription medication to help him relax and has seen a psychiatrist. He began taking Xanax after tour officials told him it was acceptable under their drug policy.
"I think it’s helped a little bit," he told Golf Channel.com’s Jason Sobel. "[Tuesday] I forgot to take it and the first four or five holes, I was like, I don’t want to be here. I want to get out of here. I was just moving a million miles an hour."
Beljan, who notched his only tour win at Disney World last fall, understands now that his very public collapse was real and did not make him an oddity. He was also pleased to discuss his experiences and hoped his openness would help others cope with their own issues.
"I'd like to be known as a golfer and a free spirit and a fun‑loving guy, but at the same time, what I experienced out there and what everybody saw brought a lot of attention to panic attacks and anxiety attacks and what a big deal it is and how many people do face it on a daily basis," Beljan said in his news conference. "I've gotten a lot of letters and a lot of e‑mails and stuff like that saying that I've been an inspiration to all and it's been pretty neat because I've touched people other than just, you know, playing golf."