A year ago, nobody knew who Chad Pfeifer was.
After a fifth-place showing at last year’s American Century Championship and an appearance on Big Break, Pfeifer, a retired Army corporal who had his left leg amputated below the knee after being hit with an IED (improvised explosive device) in Iraq back in 2007, is now a well-known name in golfing circles.
The bookmakers have Pfeifer at 12-1 for the 26th annual event slated for July 14-19 at Edgewood Tahoe Golf Club.
“No, not really,” said Pfeifer when asked if he was surprised about going from 30-1 a year ago to 12-1 this year. “Obviously I surprised a lot of people last year. Obviously I was not a household name. My golf game is good right now.”
It was pretty good last year, too. Pfeifer scored 61 points in the modified Stableford scoring system, finishing 2-over-par for the 54-hole event. Pfeifer scored 24 points the first day and led the event after the opening round. He was the media darling, and because of his military background, had the bulk of the gallery cheering him on.
“I was expecting to play well, maybe not quite as well as I did the first day,” Pfeifer said during a conference call on Tuesday afternoon. “The first two days I just tried to play my game and have fun. The third day? I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was thinking about winning and holding that trophy up. I just got caught up in the moment and realized where I was. I would have liked to have won it.”
Pfeifer started the final round with a birdie, but double-bogeyed the par-4 2nd when he chunked a couple of shots when his tee shot in the right rough put him under a tree. He followed that up with back-to-back birdies on Nos. 3 and 4, but then bogeyed three of the next five holes to make the turn at 38. The only blemish on his back nine was a bogey (zero points) at the par-4 14th, a hole he had birdied the first two days,
Pfeifer said being on Big Break was an interesting experience.
“Being on Big Break was a lot of fun,” Pfeifer said. “It’s something I wasn’t used to. It was a whole different thing. It’s film and taped compared to tournaments where it’s live. It’s a different kind of pressure; a lot of waiting around to film one or two shots. If you don’t hit good shots you could be going home.”
Pfeifer indicated becoming the PGA’s first amputee professional is still his goal.
“I still want to make the PGA Tour,” he said. “I’ve been working hard on my game, and I’m going to take whatever steps are necessary to do that. Like Trent (Dilfer) I have kids (two little boys), so sometimes it’s tough to put in the time.
“I don’t feel I played my best golf when they filmed Big Break, and I was still up there (in the standings).”
Pfeifer has a solid game. He drives the ball between 275 and 300 yards. His swing is self taught and adapted to his prosthetic. The weight transfer is a challenge but his swing is good because he can’t open up his hips too soon, a problem many golfers with two good legs have.
It was mid-April in 2007 when Pfeifer volunteered to drive a patrol vehicle back to base after a firefight the day previous. Four times the group avoided explosions. On the next one, Pfeifer wasn’t so lucky. According to Pfeifer, the bomb went off right under him. He told reporters last year he woke up in Germany missing his left leg below the knee and his right foot was in a cast because of a heel injury.
Pfeifer wondered whether he would ever walk again. Heck, he played golf for the first time 10 months later after getting fitted for a new leg late in 2007. It wasn’t a sport he ever figured he would take up. A fellow vet who had lost both his legs in Iraq had made the suggestion they go to the driving range. Pfeifer, whose prosthesis broke while walking to the driving range, managed to hit a few balls really well, and stayed with it.
The war veteran used the sport more as a therapy tool than anything else, but he eventually caught the bug.
In 2011, Pfeifer won the National Amputee Tournament, and then he won the Wounded Warrior Open in 2011, 2012 and 2013. The win in 2013 earned him the invite to the 2014 ACC.
The ACC has decided to invite the annual winner of the Wounded Warrior Open to the tournament every year.
Army Sgt, Major Rodney Gorman, who knocked off Pfeifer on the way to the 2014 WWO title, has been added to the field this year.
Gorman, a Gulf War veteran, shot 145 over 36 holes.
The 49-year-old Gorman has received multiple injuries, most significantly to his right forearm and hand where he took enemy fire.
“I don’t think pressure will get to him too much,” Pfeifer said. “He’s been in a lot more pressure situations than hitting a bad golf shot.”