Retired vet's goal: First amputee to win on PGA Tour

By Al TaysDecember 23, 2012, 1:00 pm

Golf? That wasn’t Chad Pfeifer’s speed. Way too tame a game for a three-sport high school athlete who was good enough in baseball to play collegiately. To him, golf was a sport for “old, retired people,” or for high school kids who couldn’t play football or baseball. He tried it – he played in a fund-raising outing his college baseball team held – but he and his teammates “would just get out there and try to hit that ball as far as we could with that driver.”

Pfeifer, now 31, laughs at those memories. They seem so far away. Golf is his life now. It’s how he supports wife Summer and their first child, 7-month-old Grady. When he isn’t working in a golf shop, he’s working on his game, striving to achieve his goal of becoming the first amputee to win on the or PGA tours.

He laughs at that thought, too, realizing how farfetched it must appear. But he’s serious. “I gotta have goals, right?” he says.

A CONFLUENCE of two random circumstances put Army Spc. Chad Pfeifer in the wrong place at the wrong time in the first hours of April 12, 2007. The platoon’s regular driver was back Stateside on R&R, and his replacement’s night-vision goggles weren’t working properly. So Pfeifer volunteered to come down from his usual berth manning the .50-caliber machine gun and drive back to base. They were about 45 miles southwest of Baghdad, but less than half a dozen from home.

Pfeifer's platoon was part of D Company of the 3rd Battalion (Airborne) of the 509th Infantry Regiment. They had been on patrol since late morning, engaged in a firefight and pursuit of the enemy for much of the day. Now it was after midnight and all they wanted to do was get home safely.

That’s when the bomb went off.

Buried just under the sand, it was a pressure-plate device, a low-tech but effective weapon of the Iraqi insurgents. The explosive was triggered when pressure forced a hidden plate down and connected a wire with the charge.

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Pressure, as in someone stepping on it. Or a vehicle’s wheel rolling over it.

“Fortunately, I was the only one who got hurt,” Pfeifer said. “The blast wasn’t big enough to completely obliterate the truck.”

Pfeifer briefly blacked out. When he came to he heard his buddies asking if everyone was OK. “They got to me and I told them I couldn’t feel my legs.”

When they pulled him out of the truck, they saw that the lower portion of his left leg was missing.

AFTER A HOSPITAL STAY in Germany, Pfeifer was sent to Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas. There, waiting to receive a prosthetic, he had a visitor in his hospital room. Staff Sgt. Christian Bagge, whose wife had gone to college with Pfeifer, suggested that once Pfeifer got back on his feet, they should play some golf together.

Pfeifer didn't want to hear it.

“I was hurting pretty bad at the time,” he said, “so I was like ‘Yeah, OK, whatever.’”

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Pfeifer wasn’t hurting just physically. His combat experience had left him – as it does so many in the military – with deep mental and emotional scars, too.

He was suffering from depression, which was so extreme that it led to thoughts of suicide, something that isn’t uncommon among people who suffer traumatic injuries.

“There were definitely plenty of days where I really felt depressed and angry,” he said. “I was fortunate to have a loving family who were there to support me and that made a huge difference in my mental rehabilitation. There were days when I had no idea what I was going to do and how I could live the life I wanted to without my leg.”  

Part of that life he wanted to live involved sports. He was – had been – a successful athlete, a competitor. But now he couldn’t see how that need could be nourished.

And then he hit some range balls.

BAGGE HADN'T GIVEN UP on the idea, and eventually Pfeifer agreed. Their first session was aborted when Pfeifer’s prosthetic broke as the two men were walking from the clubhouse to the range, but after Pfeifer received a replacement, they tried again.

Something clicked in Pfeifer when he pured a shot – feeling the solid strike of clubhead against ball. It wasn’t unlike the feel of baseball against bat. This was fun, especially since he seemed to be good at it. He might have lost a leg, but he still had his baseball-honed hand-eye coordination.

“Once I picked up golf,” he said, “it gave me an escape from that depression, got me out of my hospital room, and let me take out some aggression on the golf ball rather than people close to me.”  

The staff at the fort’s two golf courses got to know Pfeifer and Bagge, allowing them to hit free range balls or go out on one of the courses if it wasn’t busy.

Pfeifer settled into a routine: physical therapy in the morning, golf in the afternoon. “I didn’t want to just sit around and play video games,” he said.

“I would first go out and just chip and putt, but then when I started hitting full shots, I got the bug and fell in love with it.”

Chad Pfeifer

NOW HE WANTED to compete. Despite battling a fade caused by his tendency to fall back on his right leg, Pfeifer found he could hit the ball long and accurately. He played enough rounds to establish a handicap, starting out as a 15. Playing from the back tees, he broke 80, then 70. He entered the National Amputee Championship, finishing in the top five in 2009 and 2010, then winning it in 2011 aided by a career-low 65. He won the Warrior Open, a tournament for wounded veterans founded by the George W. Bush Presidential Center, in 2011 and 2012, making his second hole-in-one in the second event.

After holing an 8-iron on the 147-yard fourth hole, exchanging high-fives and hugs with the rest of his group and hopping into his cart and heading for the green, Pfeifer noticed a familiar figure.

“I looked and saw President George W. Bush start walking onto the green and he had his hands raised.

“I didn’t realize he was up there ... it was incredible to know that he was one of my official witnesses to the shot. That was definitely pretty cool.”

'It's the closest I've been to a hole-in-one ever,' Bush said.

PFEIFER SAYS he joined the Army to pay some college bills and student loans. But if he hadn’t been wounded, he probably would have made it a career.

“You form great friends in the Army,” he said, “such bonds with those guys, that I had decided that I was going to be a career military guy. … you can’t imagine what else you’d be doing.”

Now he can't imagine doing anything outside of golf.

After medically retiring from the Army as a corporal in August 2008, Pfeifer initially moved back to Boise, Idaho, but decided to relocate to Arizona to pursue a career in golf. He and Summer moved to Chandler, Ariz., where he enrolled in the Golf Academy of America. He got a job working at Tatum Ranch GC in Cave Creek, but after a move left him with a long commute, he shifted to the Golf Club of Estrella, where he helps out in the pro shop.

His real goal is to become a touring pro. If he makes it to the Tour or PGA Tour, he would be only the second amputee to compete on one of the three major U.S. tours. Ken Green was the first, competing in eight Champions Tour events after losing part of his right leg in a 2009 RV crash. Green was a former PGA Tour player before his accident; Pfeifer would be the first amputee with no previous tour experience.

Green is rooting for him. While noting that golf is “brutally hard even without these setbacks,” Green said “there is no reason he can’t be successful. It gives him a purpose and a goal, and you’ve got to have a purpose and a goal to accomplish anything.”

Pfeifer’s game hasn’t risen to the level he wants in competition, but he’s been trying to play while also working full time and trying to raise sponsorship money so he can afford to enter more tournaments. Plus, 2012 has been an eventful year. While Summer was pregnant with Grady, Pfeifer played in some Gateway Tour events but “didn’t play my best.” He played in the Monday qualifier for the Tour’s Albertsons Boise Open, but missed the number to qualify by three shots. Next year he hopes to get into that tournament – which is significant to him because he grew up in Caldwell, Idaho, just outside Boise – on a sponsor's exemption.

If he can’t make it as a touring pro, “I really want to be a motivational guy – not necessarily a speaker, but go around and be a role model for wounded soldiers and be an inspiration to them.

“I want to be the guy who helps other wounded soldiers do whatever they want to do after they get hurt and come back from war.”

He already has a head start on that kind of work. He’s involved in several military organizations, including the Wounded Warrior Project, Warriors for Freedom, Salute Military Golf Association and Folds of Honor.

All in all, he has no complaints. “It’s turned out great,” he said.

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Tiger Tracker: Arnold Palmer Invitational

By Tiger TrackerMarch 18, 2018, 5:00 pm

Tiger Woods will start Sunday five off the lead at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. How will he follow up last week's runner-up? We're tracking him at Bay Hill.

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McIlroy: Time for Tour to limit alcohol sales on course

By Ryan LavnerMarch 18, 2018, 1:50 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. – Rory McIlroy suggested Saturday that the PGA Tour might need to consider curbing alcohol sales to stop some of the abusive fan behavior that has become more prevalent at events.

McIlroy said that a fan repeatedly yelled his wife’s name (Erica) during the third round at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

“I was going to go over and have a chat with him,” McIlroy said. “I think it’s gotten a little much, to be honest. I think they need to limit the alcohol sales on the course, or they need to do something, because every week it seems like guys are complaining about it more and more.

Full-field scores from the Arnold Palmer Invitational

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“I know that people want to come and enjoy themselves, and I’m all for that, but sometimes when the comments get personal and people get a little bit rowdy, it can get a little much.”

This isn’t the first time that McIlroy has voiced concerns about fan behavior on Tour. Last month at Riviera, he said the rowdy spectators probably cost Tiger Woods a half-shot a round, and after two days in his featured group he had a splitting headache.

A week later, at the Honda Classic, Justin Thomas had a fan removed late in the final round.

McIlroy believes the issue is part of a larger problem, as more events try to replicate the success of the Waste Management Phoenix Open, which has one of the liveliest atmospheres on Tour.

“It’s great for that tournament, it’s great for us, but golf is different than a football game, and there’s etiquette involved and you don’t want people to be put off from bringing their kids when people are shouting stuff out,” he said. “You want people to enjoy themselves, have a good day.”

As for a solution, well, McIlroy isn’t quite sure.

“It used to be you bring beers onto the course or buy beers, but not liquor,” he said. “And now it seems like everyone’s walking around with a cocktail. I don’t know whether (the solution) is to go back to letting people walking around with beers in their hands. That’s fine, but I don’t know.”

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Confident Lincicome lurking after 54 holes at Founders

By Randy SmithMarch 18, 2018, 2:45 am

PHOENIX – Brittany Lincicome is farther back than she wanted to be going into Sunday at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, but she’s in a good place.

She’s keeping the momentum of her season-opening Pure Silk Bahamas Classic victory going this year.

Her confidence is high.

“Last year, I won in the Bahamas, but then I didn't do anything after that,” Lincicome said. “I don't even know if I had a top 10 after my win in the Bahamas. Obviously, this year, I want to be more consistent.”

Lincicome followed up her victory in the Bahamas this year with a tie for seventh in her next start at the Honda LPGA Thailand. And now she’s right back on another leaderboard with the year’s first major championship just two weeks away. She is, by the way, a two-time winner at the ANA Inspiration.

Missy Pederson, Lincicome’s caddie, is helping her player keep that momentum going with more focus on honing in the scoring clubs.

“One of our major goals is being more consistent,” Pederson said. “She’s so talented, a once in a generation talent. I’m just trying to help out in how to best approach every golf course.”

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

Pederson has helped Lincicome identify the clubs they’re likely to attack most with on the particular course they are playing that week, to spend more time working with those clubs in practice. It’s building confidence.

“I know the more greens we hit, and the more chances we give ourselves, the more our chances are to be in contention,” Pederson said. “Britt is not big into stats or details, so I have to figure out how to best consolidate that information, to get us exactly where we need to be.”

Lincicome’s growing comfort with clubs she can attack with is helping her confidence through a round.

“I’ve most noticed consistency in her mental game, being able to handle some of the hiccups that happen over the course of a round,” Pederson said. “Whereas before, something might get under her skin, where she might say, `That’s what always happens,’ now, it’s, `All right, I know I’m good enough to get this back.’ I try to get her in positions to hit the clubs we are really hitting well right now.”

That’s leading to a lot more birdies, fewer bogeys and more appearances on leaderboards in the start to this year.

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Returning Park grabs 54-hole Founders lead

By Randall MellMarch 18, 2018, 2:09 am

PHOENIX – In the long shadows falling across Wildfire Golf Club late Saturday afternoon, Inbee Park conceded she was tempted to walk away from the game last year.

While healing a bad back, she was tempted to put her clubs away for good and look for a second chapter for her life.

But then . . .

“Looking at the girls playing on TV, you think you want to be out there” Park said. “Really, I couldn't make my mind up when I was taking that break, but as soon as I'm back here, I just feel like this is where I belong.”

In just her second start after seven months away from the LPGA, Park is playing like she never left.

She’s atop a leaderboard at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, looking like that’s exactly where she belongs.

With a 9-under-par 63 Saturday, Park seized the lead going into the final round.

At 14 under overall, she’s one shot ahead of Mariajo Uribe (67), two ahead of Ariya Jutanugarn (68) and three ahead of 54-year-old World Golf Hall of Famer Laura Davies (63) and Chella Choi (66).

Park’s back with a hot putter.

That’s not good news for the rest of the tour. Nobody can demoralize a field with a flat stick like Park. She’s one of the best putters the women’s game has ever seen, and on the front nine Saturday she looked as good as she ever has.

“The front nine was scary,” said her caddie, Brad Beecher, who was on Park’s bag for her long run at world No. 1, her run of three consecutive major championship victories in 2013 and her gold medal victory at the Olympics two years ago.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

“The front nine was great . . . like 2013,” Park said.

Park started her round on fire, going birdie-birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie. She was 6 under through five holes. She holed a wedge from 98 yards at the third hole, making the turn having taken just 10 putts. Yeah, she said, she was thinking about shooting 59.

“But I'm still really happy with my round today,” she said.

Park isn’t getting ahead of herself, even with this lead. She said her game isn’t quite where she wants it with the ANA Inspiration, the year’s first major championship, just two weeks away, but a victory Sunday should go a long way toward getting her there.

Park is only 29. LPGA pros haven’t forgotten what it was like when she was dominating, when she won 14 times between 2013 and ’15.

They haven’t forgotten how she can come back from long layoffs with an uncanny ability to pick up right where she left off.

Park won the gold medal in Rio de Janeiro in her first start back after missing two months because of a ligament injury in her left thumb. She took eight months off after Rio and came back to win the HSBC Women’s World Championship last year in just her second start. She left the tour again in the summer with an aching back.

“I feel like Inbee could take off a whole year or two years and come back and win every week,” said Brittany Lincicome, who is four shots behind Park. “Her game is just so consistent. She doesn't do anything flashy, but her putting is flashy.

“She literally walks them in. It's incredible, like you know it's going in when she hits it. It's not the most orthodox looking stroke, but she can repeat it.”

Park may not play as full a schedule as she has in the past, Beecher said, but he believes she can thrive with limited starts.

“I think it helps her get that fight back, to get that hunger back,” Beecher said. “She knows she can play 15 events a year and still compete. There aren’t a lot of players who can do that.”

Park enjoyed her time away last year, and how it re-energized her.

“When I was taking the long break, I was just thinking, `I can do this life as well,’” Park said. “But I'm glad I came back out here. Obviously, days like today, that's the reason I'm playing golf.”