Chad Pfeifer won the 5th United States Disabled Open on Wednesday at PGA Golf Club in Port St. Lucie, Fla. It was the second title for Pfeifer in the last three years.
But the way the dominant player in disabled golf won another title was so unexpected.
Pfeifer, of Nampa, Idaho, started the final round tied for the lead, but found himself three shots behind after eight holes to Jeremy Bittner – who was a scorching 4-under through his first six holes. Plus, Pfeifer didn’t make a birdie on the Ryder Course for the second consecutive day.
“I wouldn’t think there was any way I wouldn’t make a birdie,” said Pfeifer, who made six in the first round.
What mattered, however, was Pfeifer kept making pars and eventually Bittner gave him an opening that Pfeifer charged through. For the second consecutive day, Pfeifer made 16 pars and two bogeys for a 73 that gave him a two-shot victory over Bittner. Pfeifer, who lost part of his right leg while serving in the Army in Iraq in 2007, finished at 4-over 217.
“It means a lot to win,” Pfeifer said. “I know I have a target on my back because a lot of guys are looking to try and beat me. That doesn’t always make it easy.”
Competition is nothing new for Pfeifer. After losing his left leg above the knee to a roadside bomb while serving in Iraq, Pfeifer turned to golf as part of his therapy, and the retired Army corporal and Purple Heart recipient has devoted much of his life to helping others through the game of golf. He has competed on Golf Channel’s “Big Break” series, and was given a sponsor’s exemption to play in the 2015 Albertsons Boise Open, later trying to qualify for the Korn Ferry Tour. He won the 2021 U.S. Disabled Open, is a three-time National Amputee Champion, and competed in an exhibition at the PGA TOUR’s Tournament of Champions at Kapalua in January 2022. Pfeifer founded Moving Foreward, which uses the game of golf to provide education, assistance and motivation to people with disabilities.
Eliseo Villanueva was hoping to defend his title after he started the final round tied with Pfeifer, but he bogeyed the first two holes and finished third after a 77.
The consolation for the 56-year-old from Fayetteville, North Carolina, was he won the overall Senior Division title.
Five-time PGA Tour winner Ken Green of West Palm Beach, Florida, shot 73 and finished tied for fourth with Jack Bonifant at 9-over 222.
Bittner made it look easy early in his round, as he tried to improve on last year’s runner-up finish to Villanueva. Bittner birdied the first hole, eagled the par-5 fourth hole when he holed a 50-yard chip and birdied the sixth to take the three-shot lead.
“It was fun to watch,” Pfeifer said, “but it was not fun to be on the opposite end of it.”
But Bittner’s lead vanished when he made a triple bogey at the par-4 ninth, after he couldn’t find his tee shot. He made a bogey on his second tee ball.
“Just a bad swing at 9,” said Bittner, who lost a part of his left leg when he was 4 due to a lawnmower accident. “No excuses; I just pulled it. There’s a big mental adjustment you need to make after coming off that hot start.”
Bittner fought back with birdies at the 10th and 13th holes, but five bogeys on the back nine had him settling for another second-place finish.
“It’s always fun to be in the mix, to have that rush of adrenaline everyone who plays competitively wants to have,” Bittner said. “It was an emotional roller coaster, but congrats to Chad. He played solid. He kept his head down, and he earned it.”
Pfeifer took the lead for good when Bittner bogeyed the 15th hole. Another bogey by Bittner at the 17th hole allowed Pfeifer to play the final hole conservatively with a bogey.
One of Pfeifer’s skills is his unflappability during a round. He never gets too up or too down.
You would have never known, for instance, he didn’t make a birdie in his last 36 holes by his actions on the golf course.
“I’m sure some of that is through my military training,” Pfeifer said. “If I hit a bad shot, nobody is shooting at me.”
The United States Disabled Open is run by the U.S. Disabled Golf Association with the PGA of America serving as Presenting Partner of the Championship.