Former Army Cpl. Chad Pfeifer lost his left leg above the knee in 2007 when a roadside bomb exploded during a patrol in Iraq. (Benjamin Margiott/azcentral Sports))
When Chad Pfeifer lost his left leg during his deployment with the Army in Iraq, he thought his days as a competitor were done.
Once a college baseball player, Pfeifer simply wasn’t mobile enough anymore in his new prosthetic for baseball or basketball.
Then, one, day, while rehabbing at the Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, he stumbled upon golf.
Fast forward seven years, and Pfeifer has climbed the ranks of top tournament players, having won the George W. Bush Presidential Center’s Warrior Open three years running.
The retired corporal’s ascent in the golf world reaches a new level this summer. Pfeifer has been invited to play in the American Century Championship at Lake Tahoe, Calif. He will be in the field of 80 professional athletes and entertainers competing for $600,000 in prize money in the charity tournament’s 25h anniversary year.
Pfeifer will join the likes of Jerry Rice, Aaron Rodgers, Brian Urlacher and many other household names for the mid-July event, widely considered as America’s best celebrity sporting event.
Despite his success on the golf course, the invitation still came as a surprise.
“I’m no celebrity, that’s for sure,” said Pfeifer, who is a PGA club professional at Goodyear’s Golf Club of Estrella. “So to be included in that lineup and for me to be able to be around all those guys, guys I idolized growing up, it’s pretty cool.”
Pfeifer, 32, lost his left leg above the knee on April 12, 2007, when a roadside bomb exploded while Pfeifer was on patrol in Iraq. He also was inflicted with a heel fracture, minor traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Golf became his medication.
He had played before joining the Army, casually with family and a few times during college, but didn’t fall in love with the sport until he began rehab in San Antonio.
“They had two courses there on the base, and it wasn’t too far from the Intrepid Center where the guys with injuries stayed,” Pfeifer said. “I would just go to the course and just hit balls, and they’d let us play for free in the afternoons when it slowed down.”
It started when Pfeifer’s friend and bilateral amputee, Christian Bagge, convinced Pfeifer, who hadn’t even been fit for a prosthetic yet, to hit the links.
Pfeifer, who once thought golf was “an old man’s sport,” was instantly intrigued. For one, he could play golf while still recovering from his leg injury, as a therapy of sorts.
“Playing the other sports growing up that I loved so much was frustrating with the prosthetic, getting used to it,” Pfeifer said. “But golf got me outside, it got me walking around on different terrains, walking uphill, downhill, so it was great practice as far as getting used to the prosthetic.”
The three-sport high school athlete played college baseball at a few smaller schools and enjoyed playing basketball before his injury, but he couldn’t compete at the same level in those more-physical sports. Golf leveled the playing field.
“A one-legged guy can compete with a guy playing for 20 years that’s maybe a scratcher or better than scratch golfer,” said Pfeifer, who in 2011 won the National Amputee Golf Association Tournament at Rio Verde Country Club.
The American Century Championship, which this year will honor Pfeifer and other members of the armed forces, runs from July 18 to July 20 at Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course in Stateline, Calif., known for its high altitude and short holes.
“Not having played it before, I’m not too sure what to expect,” Pfeifer said. “Some of the par 5s, some of the guys eagle because they’re shorter and the ball flies farther.”
But perhaps the most notable aspect of the tournament itself is the style of play — modified Stableford format — that essentially eliminates the one bad hole that can ruin a decent round.
“Basically you’re still just trying to have a low gross,” Pfeifer said. “But if you have a seven or eight on a hole, it may not kill you as bad as in stroke play.”