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.

Challenged Tour: Back on the course after nearly being paralyzed

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.’”

Challenged Tour: Author plays a walking round for the final time

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.

Getty Images

Monty grabs lead entering final round in season-opener

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 4:00 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii – Colin Montgomerie shot a second straight 7-under 65 to take a two-shot lead into the final round of the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

The 54-year-old Scot, a six-time winner on the over-50 tour, didn't miss a fairway on Friday and made five birdies on the back nine to reach 14 under at Hualalai.

Montgomerie has made 17 birdies through 36 holes and said he will have to continue cashing in on his opportunities.

''We know that I've got to score something similar to what I've done – 66, 67, something like that, at least,'' Montgomerie said. ''You know the competition out here is so strong that if you do play away from the pins, you'll get run over. It's tough, but hey, it's great.''

Full-field scores from the Mitsubishi Electric Championship

First-round co-leaders Gene Sauers and Jerry Kelly each shot 68 and were 12 under.

''I hit the ball really well. You know, all the putts that dropped yesterday didn't drop today,'' Kelly said. ''I was just short and burning edges. It was good putting again. They just didn't go in.''

David Toms was three shots back after a 66. Woody Austin, Mark Calcavecchia and Doug Garwood each shot 67 and were another shot behind.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was six shots back after a 67.

The limited-field tournament on Hawaii's Big Island includes last season's winners, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

''We've enjoyed ourselves thoroughly here,'' Montgomerie said. ''It's just a dramatic spot, isn't it? If you don't like this, well, I'm sorry, take a good look in the mirror, you know?''

Getty Images

The missing link: Advice from successful tour pros

By Phil BlackmarJanuary 20, 2018, 1:24 am

Today’s topic is significant in that it underscores the direction golf is headed, a direction that has me a little concerned.

Now, more than ever, it has become the norm for PGA Tour players to put together a team to assist in all aspects of their career. These teams can typically include the player’s swing coach, mental coach, manager, workout specialist, dietician, physical therapist, short-game guru, doctor, accountant, nanny and wife. Though it often concerns me the player may be missing out when others are making decisions for them, that is not the topic.

I want to talk about what most players seem to be inexplicably leaving off their teams.

One of the things that separates great players from the rest of the pack – other than talent – is the great player’s ability to routinely stay comfortable and play with focus and clarity in all situations. Though innate to many, this skill is trainable and can be learned. Don’t get too excited, the details of such a plan are too long and more suited for a book than the short confines of this article.

So, if that aspect of the game is so important, where is the representative on the player’s team who has stood on the 18th tee with everything on the line? Where is the representative on the team who has experienced, over and over, what the player will be experiencing? In other words, where is the successful former tour player on the team?

You look to tennis and many players have such a person on their team. These teacher/mentors include the likes of Boris Becker, Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors and Brad Gilbert. Why is it not the norm in golf?

Sure, a few players have sought out the advice of Jack Nicklaus, but he’s not part of a team. The teaching ranks also include some former players like Butch Harmon and a few others. But how many teams include a player who has contended in a major, let alone won one or more?

I’m not here to argue the value and knowledge of all the other coaches who make up a player’s team. But how can the value of a successful tour professional be overlooked? If I’m going to ask someone what I should do in various situations on the course, I would prefer to include the experienced knowledge of players who have been there themselves.

This leads me to the second part of today’s message. Is there a need for the professional players to mix with professional teachers to deliver the best and most comprehensive teaching philosophy to average players? I feel there is.

Most lessons are concerned with changing the student’s swing. Often, this is done with little regard for how it feels to the student because the teacher believes the information is correct and more important than the “feels” of the student. “Stick with it until it’s comfortable” is often the message. This directive methodology was put on Twitter for public consumption a short time back:

On the other hand, the professional player is an expert at making a score and understands the intangible side of the game. The intangible side says: “Mechanics cannot stand alone in making a good player.” The intangible side understands “people feel things differently”; ask Jim Furyk to swing like Dustin Johnson, or vice versa. This means something that looks good to us may not feel right to someone else.

The intangible side lets us know that mechanics and feels must walk together in order for the player to succeed. From Ben Hogan’s book:

“What I have learned I have learned by laborious trial and error, watching a good player do something that looked right to me, stumbling across something that felt right to me, experimenting with that something to see if it helped or hindered, adopting it if it helped, refining it sometimes, discarding it if it didn’t help, sometimes discarding it later if it proved undependable in competition, experimenting continually with new ideas and old ideas and all manner of variations until I arrived at a set of fundamentals that appeared to me to be right because they accomplished a very definite purpose, a set of fundamentals which proved to me they were right because they stood up and produced under all kinds of pressure.”

Hogan beautifully described the learning process that could develop the swings of great players like DJ, Furyk, Lee Trevino, Jordan Spieth, Nicklaus, etc.

Bob Toski is still teaching. Steve Elkington is helping to bring us the insight of Jackie Burke. Hal Sutton has a beautiful teaching facility outside of Houston. And so on. Just like mechanics and feels, it’s not either-or – the best message comes from both teachers and players.

Lately, it seems the scale has swung more to one side; let us not forget the value of insights brought to us by the players who have best mastered the game.

Getty Images

Woods, Rahm, Rickie, J-Day headline Torrey field

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 20, 2018, 12:47 am

Tiger Woods is set to make his 2018 debut.

Woods is still part of the final field list for next week’s Farmers Insurance Open, the headliner of a tournament that includes defending champion Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler, Phil Mickelson and Jason Day.

In all, 12 of the top 26 players in the world are teeing it up at Torrey Pines.

Though Woods has won eight times at Torrey Pines, he hasn’t broken 71 in his past seven rounds there and hasn’t played all four rounds since 2013, when he won. Last year he missed the cut after rounds of 76-72, then lasted just one round in Dubai before he withdrew with back spasms.

After a fourth back surgery, Woods didn’t return to competition until last month’s Hero World Challenge, where he tied for ninth. 

Woods has committed to play both the Farmers Insurance Open and next month's Genesis Open at Riviera, which benefits his foundation. 

Getty Images

Even on 'off' day, Rahm shoots 67 at CareerBuilder

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 20, 2018, 12:36 am

Jon Rahm didn’t strike the ball as purely Friday as he did during his opening round at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

He still managed a 5-under 67 that put him just one shot off the lead heading into the weekend.

“I expected myself to go to the range (this morning) and keep flushing everything like I did yesterday,” said Rahm, who shot a career-low 62 at La Quinta on Thursday. “Everything was just a little bit off. It was just one of those days.”

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

After going bogey-free on Thursday, Rahm mixed four birdies and two bogeys over his opening six holes. He managed to settle down around the turn, then made two birdies on his final three holes to move within one shot of Andrew Landry (65).

Rahm has missed only five greens through two rounds and sits at 15-under 129. 

The 23-year-old Spaniard won in Dubai to end the year and opened 2018 with a runner-up finish at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. He needs a top-6 finish or better this week to supplant Jordan Spieth as the No. 2 player in the world.